Sickness unto death

by Chris Bertram on November 26, 2012

Since today is movie day at Crooked Timber, I thought I’d share. If you haven’t yet seen Michael Haneke’s Amour then you probably should make the effort. Emmanuelle Riva’s performance as Anne is one of the most brilliant pieces of screen acting I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, this is an almost uncompromising portrayal of aging and dying and of incomprehension across the generations with the end in plain view. When we left the cinema, several people outside were in tears and when I started to talk about the film I found I couldn’t without starting to dissolve myself. Some audience members sat in their seats staring at the screen for a while afterwards, and some of those were quite elderly. So if you go, and, as I say, it is a great work, do so knowing that you’ll probably be somewhat upset by the end. As you should be.



bob mcmanus 11.26.12 at 5:57 pm

Slant’s Calum Marsh gives a contrasting review. This is Michael Haneke, after all, and people should be warned. I will watch it someday. (And what is Trintignant, furniture? He was nominated beside Haneke and Riva, and you might have given him a footnote.)

And I would just like to mention that because of Japan’s demographics and remarkable longevity including of people in the business (which means these kind of movies get produced), there are lots of very good Japanese movies dealing with aging and Alzheimer’s. Shindo Kaneto, who died at 99 after writing and directing a 2012 movie, has done at least two I thought were excellent, A Last Note, which almost chronicles his wife’s sudden liver cancer and has Sugimura’s last role at 88, and Ikitai. Kawase Naomi’s Mogari no Mori. Ken Watanabe in Memories of Tomorrow. Many others.


Chris Bertram 11.26.12 at 6:07 pm

bob: if I had written a comprehensive review, I’d also have praised Trintignant. But that wasn’t what I was doing.


bert 11.26.12 at 6:55 pm

I saw it at the weekend. Absolutely terrific.
Hidden, The White Ribbon and now this. If there’s a better director in Europe I don’t know who it is. Chris is right, by the way, to point out that it is no fun at all. But that oughtn’t put anyone off.

I suspect there may be cultural reasons, entirely separate from demographics, that also explain why Japanese filmmakers make films about old age and are able to find an audience for them. The social position of the elderly in Japan is rather different from that in California, say. In the last Hollywood effort I saw where someone died at length over the course of the movie, the diee was played by Julia Roberts, and the movie was called ‘Dying Young’.


trane 11.26.12 at 8:18 pm

Thank you for the recommendation.

On the topic of upsetting films, I cannot recommend the following enough:
The Act of Killing

Best regards,


Jeffrey Davis 11.26.12 at 8:38 pm

Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.

— T.S. Elliot, “Little Gidding”

It could be worse. We could be screaming in pain.


Maria 11.26.12 at 9:21 pm

Thanks, Chris. Both for the recommendation and preparation.

It’s striking that in the trailer everyone is asking ‘what’s going on?, except for Riva’s character.


gordon 11.26.12 at 11:19 pm

Is it as good as The Barbarian Invasions?


Helen 11.27.12 at 9:44 am

“Funny Games” traumatised me thoroughly, so I’m wary of Haneke. Your review implies this film has more compassion and less casual cruelty.


bert 11.27.12 at 11:57 am

I agree with you, I didn’t like Funny Games. Haneke does provoke and confront. But Funny Games felt like being cornered and hectored. The target in that movie was movie audiences, so he got you coming and going.
Here, what’s being confronted is our attitude to death. Our habit of avoidance, of sentimentality. The Barbarian Invasions wasn’t a bad movie, but it was gloopy. None of that for Haneke. “Nothing more terrible, nothing more true.”

Looking at the title of Chris’ OP, it strikes me that “unto death” translates roughly as “à mort”. The movie is about love as well as death, and in the couple’s relationship there isn’t a false note struck. But with Haneke you get a bigger agenda, and a grim pun.


ovaut 11.28.12 at 12:51 am

Why don’t we refer to it as Love? It wasn’t called Love in France. A film called Amour in English is very different from a film called Amour in French.


Chris Bertram 11.28.12 at 7:48 am

“Why don’t we refer to it as Love?”

So people who want to see it can find if it’s playing where they live?

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