Written by: Michael Haneke
Produced by: Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz
Runtime: 127 minutes
Georges and Anne is a couple of retired music teachers residing in Paris. One breakfast, Anne’s consciousness stops, worrying Georges. As it turns out, she is diagnosed with a degenerative disease that restricts her mobility to a wheelchair. They try to improve her condition by performing surgery on her. It did not go quite as planned as her condition becomes worse: half of her body becomes paralyzed. Both Georges and Anne experience physical and emotional fatigue as they try to live with her condition by taking care of her with the hindsight that she is experiencing the agonizing process of slow death. Not even their daughter who occasionally visits them in their apartment is able to get away from the feeling of helplessness the couple feels in the process.
The pain inflicted to these characters is given an unusual restraint that removes any bit of sentimentality in the whole film. Of course, the slow descent of Anne to death is painful to watch, but the film is rid of any moment that one might call as emotionally manipulative. Handled with utmost care by renowned filmmaker Michael Haneke, the film connects us to the characters the same way that it distances us from the pitfall of making the sufferings too intimate, making this more of an observation of the process of agony.
It breaks any expectations of this film being the tearjerker that we would predict it to be, and I am glad the material was given that treatment, but I was actually hoping that the coldness of the storytelling was a bit toned down. Not that it is bad, but I was hoping that I can fully invest my emotions to the story. Instead, there is the sterile feeling to it that makes it distinct from the rest but at the same time disappoints because it could have been more involving.
Luckily, the film houses three headstrong performances that will eventually be the key for making the whole film work.
Isabelle Huppert gives a startling supporting performance as the couple’s daughter. Her character is the most emotive of the three, so it is up to her to make her character in sync with the film’s mood, and she provides the film with a complete characterization of the daughter role that is beyond what one might see. She paints a history of her character through her body language whenever she converses with either Georges or Anne. There is a slight discomfort whenever she is in the couple’s apartment, but Huppert furnishes each scene with an assurance of the control that she has for this character. She is a fascinating creation from a fascinating actress.
However, the film is more of a celebration of the two veteran actors’ triumph as they give complete performances filled with visible acting experience and skill.
Emmanuelle Riva is haunting as Anne, the ill half of the couple. Her movements are limited to a wheelchair, and as the film progresses, the bed, but the dedication that she gives is very evident. She knows when to hint the pain that she experiences; she knows when to fully hold back her emotions. It is an extremely difficult performance as both the physicality of the role and the intention of the filmmaker limits what Riva can show. But instead of using it as a limiting factor, she embraces that and uses that to make her performance unique: it is a testament on the actress’s capability of conveying so much by basically applying truth in her scenes.
Jean-Louis Trintignant also does some pretty fantastic work as Georges, the longsuffering husband of Anne. The insight that he gives in the distress of this man all out love is very evident in his work and the result is no less than thrilling. The very natural approach to the man that is behind Anne’s perseverance to continue with this fight is entirely believable due to the emotional commitment present in his acting despite the fact that he is overshadowed for most of the time by Riva’s showier work. The exploration of the character that he undergoes in the whole film must be seen to be believed; here is a fleshed out and bone-deep understanding of a man tested by his faith in love.
The excellence of the film also transcends to its technical achievements. The cinematography is worth noticing because it is indeed very special. The same way can be said about the production design’s work in the couple’s apartment. The editing is also capable, providing no easy way out for us to experience the complications of the process the characters undergo.
I have my small qualms about the film. Like I said, I would have wanted the film to have heart-warming qualities, but the film goes the entirely opposite way. It opts for a complete but surprisingly distant examination of the relationship that undergoes turmoil. It has strong performances to thank for in making the film work on a very high level. It has its moments that I really loved, but as a whole, I doubt that one could fully love this film because it is just too hard to love this film because of the treatment to the story. But I will not discount any of its merits. I have high regard for this film.
For this, the film gets:
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