BFI London Film Festival
By Anna Bielak | October 16, 2012
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
While watching Michael Haneke’s Love, you need to find yourself trustful; you should be able to suffer and sacrifice in order to stay with the story until its bitter end. Until monotony leads you to drama, tragedy to the bizarre catharsis. Thankfully, there is no such thing as Ancient Greek-style theatrical pathos in Haneke’s latest, Palm d’Or winning film. By using minimal means, the Austrian director tells a story about an old married couple who are put through the greatest test of their lives; yet, it seems that every single viewer becomes their peculiar bedfellow.
In the prologue of Love, Anna (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) go to the opera. We do not accompany them while watching the spectacle; we do not hear voices coming out from the scene. We are rather thunderstruck, because Haneke makes us look at the audience itself. While observing the enormous screen for only few minutes, we eventually feel like we are standing in front of a gigantic mirror. There are no Peeping Tom’s around; what we all experience at that very moment is our own inner, naked world in front of our eyes. This scene doesn’t last for long; yet, the sensation lasts until the ending credits. We cannot rewind the unpleasantness like the protagonists of Funny Games (1997/2007) do. Nothing happens behind closed doors; we are not in the world of White Ribbon (2008) anymore. What is closed, however, is the room for the dramatic performances written out for the two lead actors. As soon as the great operatic show ends, the world falls into calmness. Anna and George go back home. Anna and George have breakfast. Anna and George exchange morning greetings over the table. Anna has a stroke.
George tries to deal with the fact that he becomes nobody but a passive witness of his dying beloved woman. Anna is slowly losing contact with reality; she becomes childish, doesn’t react to questions and absently listens to stories that George spins over her bed. When we look at her from his perspective, it becomes obvious that she is condemned to humiliation. Day by day their world has been vanishing. Do their emotions break into pieces, because of lack of understanding, impatience and anger? Maybe not. Perhaps the truth lies on the opposite side. Maybe the real love (Haneke undeniably tells about one!) neither approves of pain nor shame? Maybe the real love does not believe in all things, does not have hope for all things, and does not endure all things? Is it true that, while being in love, we see each other in a blurry way? When the time comes that we can see clearly, do we have to tear apart our physical bond if we want to retain the spiritual one?
Haneke sings his Blue Letter of love; we do not know it yet and we are not ready to understand it, even if we daydream about one. He sings about a love that is unconditional and uncompromising; love that does not accept the typical morality and (in)human rules. He sings it beautifully — if truth is the most dangerous music it is the one that makes us cry — and we shall be aware of Mr. Haneke’s singing.