A big looming dark cloud filled with love.
It’s becoming a winning formula that directing, (but more importantly) writing an existential life affirming human story will earn you the top prize at the world’s most renowned festival. Having won the Palme D’Or award at Cannes earlier this year, director Michael Haneke‘s latest work has in many ways similarities to last year’s victor, Terence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. Addressing the issues of old age, passing away, what happens when we pass away and how that affects those around us. But in saying that, where Malick showcased how his beliefs and spiritual thinking will comfort losing loved ones, here Haneke’s belief input is put to one side, profoundly more structured as a better narrative and ultimately more engaging.
Following the lives of an elderly Parisian married couple, Georges (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne’s (Emmanuelle Riva) love for one another becomes tested when Anne develops signs of dementia, suffers recurrent strokes and becomes rapidly weaker in her abilities. With Georges becoming more strained in assisting his loving wife, the couple deal with the inevitability of old age.
Performances stand out a mile as Anne’s rapid deterioration becomes an unease, but ultimately must be endured by audiences to understand the frustration and lack of super human qualities we simply don’t possesses to cure a ravaging illness. She brilliantly reminisces in parts when her mind enjoyed the freedom of her love of music – even getting a visit from her favourite young musician, and looking back over her old photo albums whilst just simply remarking “It’s beautiful.. life”. You could look at her character as an example that the worst thing to do in the remaining years, is to look back and have negative thoughts at how young you once were and not preparing for the inevitability of death ultimately becomes a hard experience to swallow.
But in no way does the film solely concentrate on that aspect, we look from Georges view as a man showing an undying love for his wife and doing all he can, whilst following his wife’s wishes, to do anything for her. He simply wants normality to ensue and driving home that idea, that all he can do is indeed carry on with normality in his caring and keeping to routines. Coming to terms with his understanding of old age for himself and having his own personal war with nurses, carers, and even his own daughter, who blatantly believe they know whats best for his frail wife. To which the film even addresses in parts that whole notion of having the right to die, not letting that pain continue to effect not only the sufferer but the people around them.
To say the film has a great big looming dark cloud over it is an understatement; and that’s not undermining it for one moment. But there is that sense that we all must face loss at some point. Whether its the evil mind-poisoning illness of dementia making loved ones mentally lost, or death itself, which Haneke drives home in drips and drabs to much effect. Haneke’s no stranger to shock value in his films, more so in his previous work than in this. In saying that, there’s no surprise here as certainly its final act will raise it’s moral questions, quashing them instantly with the experience our two main characters have endured.
It’s no secret that its a hard film to endure, with its subject matter put right up on-screen as it is. Applauds must go to its honesty in examining the true extent of love, even to the end of life. It’s genius is it’s bravery to approach that question of what love truly is and never hiding anything traumatic away from its audience. Coupling that with two excellent performances makes this a real life affirming piece indeed.