Second time with Michael Haneke after The White Ribbon. Would compare the patience, the sombreness, the philosophical inquiry, the manipulation of shock like ringing glass.
The first sign of deterioration is pretty unforgettable: a profound blankness descending on Anne as she sits with Georges at breakfast. It’s an absence, a disconnection, but it feels almost like a message or a revelation. It encapsulates the future; G’s response is as desperate as he will be until the end.
I thought consistently of The Salesman because of the undermining and disquieting of domestic space. Haneke’s camera is coldly stable, but the hallways and living spaces seem to expand and contract depending on the quality of life and liveliness inside them. A reclining on the couch, both reading, reminded me of the contented flashbacks in A Single Man. Later, alone, G staggers around like a disoriented Miss Havisham, the austere perpendicularity of his house like a sepulchre. Most obvious here is the terrifying dream sequence which strikes at the couple’s deepest fear (note again that he is alone here, A’s voice muffled through the wall as he pads round forbidding corners). The standing water is a shiver-inducing image, perhaps connecting to his rendition of the Bach piece which soundtracked T’s Solaris. Both solitude and mental incapacitation are like rising damp, destabilising the architecture of a life while threatening to suffocate it, as if they were an unseen hand.
Intimacy of weakness: G and A are only physically immediate when he is lifting her. At these moments A is suspended and therefore most fragile. This image most obviously metonymises the later relationship: A is completely dependent upon G, even if she retains directive agency. The film stages their attempts to negotiate this relationship; in A’s case to assert autonomy, in G’s to take the extra weight.
MH particularly observant on dignity and the way it is conceived by onlookers. The most awkwardly timed comments from friends and well-wishers are misconstructions: “hats off to you,” says a neighbour to G; G’s pupil attempts to romanticise a visit as a moment of sadness and purity. The reality is too close to the image from a particularly striking dialogue: G narrates a funeral, with ill-judged gestures from mourners and the comic spectacle of a small urn in place of a coffin, wheeled through the grounds. A immediately responds with her first request for death. She fears becoming that undignified, misplaced memorial to be wheeled around for the attention of others.
A’s struggle to speak, like Florentina Hubaldo. Scenes like this we almost feel intrusive – “none of this deserves to be seen” says G, to his daughter, of the daily routine. Also Emmanuele Riva’s performance is incredible; kind of fearless, shocking.
This doesn’t have any of the slightly removed, costumey feel of TWR. Read that MH is writing from his own experiences (particularly of an aunt who desired euthanasia) and A feels like a personal film. It’s a level exploration of a situation which is extreme but also disquietingly common and emblematic of fundamental concerns about human relationships.