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Anthony D’Alessandro is Managing Editor of AwardsLine. Paul Brownfield and David Mermelstein are AwardsLine contributors.
Auteurs wouldn’t be auteurs if they weren’t enigmatic, especially when it comes to deconstructing details of their oeuvre. “Let the film speak for itself” is often the motto, and for Amour director and screenwriter Michael Haneke, that’s not too far from his own credo. However, he’s not completely inaccessible when responding to the audience’s fervor for his work.
“It’s very difficult for me to say, it was so long ago, I can’t remember”, Haneke told AwardsLine when asked if there were one particularly challenging scene to write for Amour. “Generally, when it comes to screenwriting, I can say that if it’s flowing, you enjoy it. If not, it’s far less pleasant. But there’s always ambivalence—the struggle to put something there on a blank page when there was nothing there before. If it’s successful, you’re happy; if not, you’re depressed”.
In writing the story of 80-year-old husband Georges who contends with his dying wife Anne’s debilitated state, Haneke was spurred by a beloved aunt’s long and painful battle with a degenerative condition. For the director, the story of the elderly couple’s struggle was a universal tragedy versus a tragic drama “about a 40-year-old couple who is coping with a child dying of cancer”.
In researching the script, Haneke met extensively with medical specialists who work with stroke victims. His only note to Emmanuelle Riva in terms of preparing for the role was to undergo speech-therapy sessions for stroke patients. Riva initially read for the part of Anne, but Haneke had Jean-Louis Trintignant in mind for the role of Georges and wouldn’t have made Amour if the actor weren’t available.
“I like writing for actors who I know and respect, and I know I can get results”, says Haneke, who has admired Trintignant’s work since he was a teenager. In regards to Isabelle Huppert, another Haneke vet from such films as The Piano Teacher and Time of the Wolf, the director praises her talents. “She is like a Stradivarius violin, on which you can play Bach, Mozart, or Brahms, and it will always sound good”.
Setting the film in one apartment “was always the choice”, says the director. “When you get older, when you have ill health, your life is reduced to the four walls that you are living in. But beyond that, there was also the challenge of dealing with a theme of this gravity. For that, I went back to the classical use of time, space, and action”.