Amour (2012)

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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.

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The White Ribbon (2009)

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First time with Haneke.

The film begins with the doctor tripping off his horse because a wire has been inexplicably tied between two trees. His departure to hospital is followed by the accidental death of a woman at a mill. These are importantly distinct in severity, mysteriousness, consequence, culpability: these gaps create imbalances that cause mistrust, accusations and unrest. The effects begin to precipitate down like a fanning domino chain, the two first causes like the fibonacci 1 1 that are spontaneous, apparently alike but contributive to exponential differences. TWR‘s first hour introduces this cascade, and I expected the whole film to be a sort of tumbling, Drane-like mathematical shower of uncanny and unknown malice.

But the village isn’t a house of cards: it is propped up by its own imbalances of authority, numbers, wealth and – most importantly – age. The doctor’s boy fears that his father’s disappearance is final; his older sister reassures him, saying that it is only temporary, like a winter flu. As the dark events begin to scar the villagers permanently this dichotomy is disrupted, but it’s suggested here that the village’s kids feel the gravity of these situations more acutely and perceptively. The adult world is rhythmic, governed by harvest work for the poor, holidays for the rich, and religious observances for all. The swing of the seasons brings respite through tradition until the deceased woman’s older son bitterly digs up the past, a mad reaper in a cabbage field.

The effects of the traumas have become subterranean; they sprout here and there with different consequences, while more unexplained horrors keep a building, macabre rhythm and slide the village towards a reckoning. The cast of characters is huge, and the film’s overriding theme – the perversion of innocence through punitive authority – takes on varied hues according to circumstances, creating scenes that themselves produce consequences that spill beyond their particular situations. Been listening to those Deleuze podcasts recently and definitely thinking of the town in terms of rhizomatic connectivity, the events as haecceities, nexuses of complex interactions. This woven interconnectedness constantly suggests TWR to be a text (also the teacher’s grave retrospective narration).

H also interweaves tonal shifts that are threaded together by this underlying fear of authority. It’s touching, funny, chilling, shocking, haunting, everything. Made a few notes about particular scenes and images (the doctor’s boy creeping around the house at night is terrifying; his disgusting father’s rejection of the housemaid’s affections suggest Winter Light, in connection with the pastor’s passing resemblance to Gunnar Björnstrand; the bitter farmer’s quiet suicide; the pastor’s perfect son bringing him a new bird after his daughter had murdered the old one) and contrasts (the way the doctor is introduced as a neutral victim and rapidly becomes truly vile vs the obviously disgusting pastor’s strange partial retribution with the vindication of his kids). But I mostly stopped writing after halfway. The suppression of the traumas’ consequences under the assertive system of the town did kill the pace for a while, which threw me off kilter, but it’s amazing to look back on and piece together. This really is perfect storytelling. It’s recognisably modern in style but distinctive in its confidence with the tonal shifts and unexplained mysteries. It’s as personal as a Sebald narrative but universal beyond the WWI context.

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