Sunday, February 24, 2013
Michael Haneke, cinematic sadist extraordinaire, may have crafted his ultimate iron maiden in Amour. After years of random brutality, films filled with mutilations of the self and the other, the director has at last discovered the greatest horror show of them all: time and our own crumbling bodies. Not that there aren’t signs of a newfound tenderness occasionally breaking through the misanthropic gloom of Haneke’s world. When Jean-Louis Trintignant dodders around an apartment trying to capture a pigeon, one reflexively cringes at the inevitable violence to come (visions of a dead bird a la The White Ribbon flutter around the imagination). Instead the old man simply holds the creature, caressing it sadly before later setting it free—and unless he released it into a turbine, the bird may be one of the first animals to survive a cameo in a Haneke film. Elsewhere, the director’s clinical touch is evident, bolstered by two superbly considered performances from his octogenarian all-stars, Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. When Riva looks through a photo album and declares life to be beautiful, the moment is so drained of sentimentality it makes the weather report seem overwrought. Too bad all of the fine efforts of the actors are torpedoed by Haneke’s predictable fondness for sudden, shocking bursts of violence. As always, he confuses surprise for genuine emotion and assumes making people squirm is the same as making them think. Even in his supposed humanist crowd-pleaser, Haneke can’t resist sucker-punching the audience.