Two Takes on Michael Haneke’s Amour

I find Francine Prose’s response to Amour at the NYR Blog rather superficial and a little juvenile. It revolves around the question of whether you can “recommend” a film as a masterpiece if it induces a feeling of revulsion in you.

Michael Haneke’s Amour is the ultimate horror film. With its portrayal of the shocks, the cruelties and indignities to which old age and disease subject a happily married Parisian couple, it’s far scarier and more disturbing than Hitchcock’s Psycho, Kubrick’s The Shining, or Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, and like those films, it stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it. Like all of Haneke’s work, Amour raises interesting and perhaps unanswerable questions: Can a film be a masterpiece and still make you want to warn people not to see it? Can a movie make you think that an artist has done something extraordinary, original, extremely difficult—and yet you cannot imagine yourself uttering the words, “You’ve got to go see Amour”?

Obviously you can. Doesn’t art give comfort to the disturbed and disturb the comfortable?

Malcolm Harris’s at The New Inquiry is much more interesting and, I would say, touching, as befits the film’s subject-matter.

Saying true love isn’t real is like saying money isn’t real, or race isn’t real, or the desire for deodorant isn’t real. You might be right in a base, materialist sort of way, but nations build policy not only on the existence but the desirability of love. The loving and stable two-parent household, bound together indefinitely, is society’s implied ideal, from the birth certificate to the obituary announcement. Little kids chant the story of social reproduction like a mantra: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.

Even if it’s “just a social construct, babe,” true love structures the world in very real ways, not least of which in the way it organizes our stories. Coupling gives narratives the appearance of a clean finality, the establishment of a bipartite they that allows for happily ever after. People hope to end up together and grow old. But the end in end up together usually refers to just an intermediate stage. Love is everlasting, but bodies are not. How do Prince Charming and the Princess die?

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Initially convinced in what I saw was an allusion to the death of art-house cinema (well every festival film seems a lament for the critics like that zombified audience in Holy Motors), I think it’s just right that the documentary flavor of Amour befits a matter-of-factly reading by the latter review, that death is part and parcel of love, but in the film it doesn’t look self-evident.

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