Always a happy day when we welcome a new recruit to Picturenose’s ranks of reviewers – Elisabeth Kovacs from Brussels is our latest addition, and she opens her account with her thoughts on Michael Haneke‘s Palme d’Or winner.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are a refined, cultivated and elegant couple in their eighties, still in love with each other after more than forty years together. Anne is a retired piano teacher, and she and her husband both live for classical music. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who is also a pianist, pays them short and irregular visits only to tell them about her boring and down-to-earth plans to invest in real estate. The first sign of Anne’s illness takes the shape of a long and unusual silence in the middle of a conversation: Anne is having a stroke, and from now on she will become ever-more absent, even from herself.
Georges is not prepared to accompany his wife on her journey into the darkness, yet every day he finds new strength that was previously unknown to him, in order to face their changed life together. In an autistic and cruel way, yet still sort of speaking with the voice of common sense, Huppert keeps on saying that something has to be done, that her mother has to be taken away – from her and our sight – desperately clinging to the idea that there must be a rational and clean way out. As for Georges, day after day, he convinces himself that there is still love and poetry to be found in his relationship with Anne – until her last breath, and even after.
One of the most interesting questions asked by Haneke – and to which no answer is given – is whether having shared so many moments of beauty and of intellectual pleasures and complicity as Georges and Anne have done is of any help when one is confronted by the end. Seascapes and Schubert’s Impromptus, which appear in the film from time to time, have became still-lifes – while bringing Georges a rare source of individual relief, they also sadly recall the couple’s lost ability to enjoy art together. Silences and musical interludes shifted away from the images bring the film’s most accomplished scenes.
Elderly dependency, and how relatives and society are or are not prepared to face it, is a social phenomenon that is bound to grow in importance and relevance in the years to come. But, in this beautiful film, Haneke reminds the audience that it will always remain a personal and intimate drama for those confronted by it. In doing so, Haneke once again takes the opportunity to explore the limits of the unutterable and the unspeakable, trying to corner this question in a cinematographic way, unceasingly pushing the borders of the unshowable further away. The ultra-violence that was the object of clinical study in his previous films is replaced here with senility and approaching death.
Thus, in the stunning scene of Georges’s first nightmare, the terrifying image of an anonymous hand suddenly throttling him from behind, recalls the unpredictable gesture of Maurice Bénichou’s hand in Caché (Hidden) (2005), when he cuts his throat. Both characters seem dumbstruck by pure evil, appearing suddenly from off-screen. But the loving way in which Haneke examines his characters in the movie also allows the audience to escape to the voyeur’s position to which it is usually assigned by this director. It is as if old age and death, which is always a scandal as Jeanne Moreau used to sing, has allowed him to show a more pacified facet of his art.
127 minutes. In French and English.