Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Amour (review)

This movie was absolutely brutal.

Talking about the movie and analyzing what's going on, especially after finishing it only minutes ago, seems slightly perverse. It's not that Amour is the best movie of all time—or even Haneke's best—but simply that it's so purely melancholic that my first inclination after watching it was to lie down and go to sleep. I can't imagine what sort of mood I would have to be in to want to watch this movie again. But I've promised myself to do this, and my passion is equal to the task.

A movie like this poses obvious problems to my rating system. My "beers" category, as I originally conceived it, was meant to measure how enjoyable a movie would be to watch with a group of friends while, perhaps, drinking some beer. Recently however it seems to be morphing basically into an answer to the question, "How much would a film major like this movie?" In the former case, Amour would be stuck at one beer, and in the latter, somewhere around four. There are no uniquely brilliant shots or transitions or anything (one of the opening shots, which stares out at an auditorium mimicking the cinematic environment, was enjoyable but executed more effectively in Holy Motors), but Haneke's style is definitely here in full force (painfully long takes and close ups forcing the audience to look at what it doesn't want to see).

But there's something about Amour that escapes both of these categories. Maybe I'm just tired after watching so many generic rehashes of predictable character arcs and storylines, but it was almost refreshing to see something so unafraid to alienate its audience. In any case, if you also find yourself bored of the Hollywood machine then Amour might provide exactly the kick in the pants you need to reignite your faith in film. Then again, getting kicked in the pants isn't exactly fun. Needless to say, if you don't find yourself turned off by remakes, reboots, and happy endings then stay away from this movie.

Amour is much easier to fit into my second category. The topic of conversation from a Zizekian standpoint seems to be fantasy and how it structures love. As Lacan had it, "There is no sexual relationship" ("Il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel"). This is the case for several reasons (at least four by my count), one of which Amour has at its heart: there is no (real) sexual relationship because sexual relationships are precisely imaginary, precisely fantasmatic.

In this light it looks like Amour provides us with the real(ity) of all sexual relationships. There is no fantasy, and for that reason there is no sex (and you thought it was just because they're old!). This theory seems to fit most of the film: we're presented with two people whose bodily fragility is almost oppressive with its suffocating over-presence. We appear to be in the realm of the Lacanian real.

As Anne's body degenerates after having two strokes, however, we watch as Georges's fantasy emerges only to be brought to the brink of destruction. In one of my favorite scenes, the camera opens on Anne playing piano (she used to be a piano teacher and is rather proficient). We pan over to Georges, sitting and listening to her music, to see him press a button on the CD player and stop the music. It was in his imagination: Anne is still stuck in bed unable to perform the simplest of tasks. This provides Georges's fantasy frame for Anne. As the movie progresses we see him having an increasingly hard time coping with Anne's vegetative state until, unable to take it anymore, he takes Anne's life.

This sent me reeling, but not for the obvious reason (that he just killed his wife). For a movie as adamantly anti-fantasy as Amour was until this point I was astonished that, in the end, Georges killed Anne to save his fantasy of her. Shortly afterward we see Georges get out of bed to find Anne in the kitchen washing dishes (how's that for a male fantasy of women?). She tells him to put on his shoes and jacket and they walk out of the house together. The message the movie is trying to send is clear—Georges just killed himself—but the way it's sent is far more important. The fact that he happily leaves the house with Anne at his side tells us that he killed himself not because he was overwhelmed with regret, but because he now belongs to the order of the imaginary, to the realm of fantasy.

This is of course not what we're supposed to do with fantasy. For Lacan, fantasy exists only in order to be traversed, to be left behind,* so for me this was a seriously disappointing turn of events. I appreciate that Amour is still an excellent movie about struggling with the way fantasy structures love, and far be it from me to tell Michel Haneke to make a movie with a happy ending, but from a Zizekian standpoint the ending has to be different.




*In my review of Les Miserables I argue that fantasy does have a place in the realm of politics.

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