Amour takes your breath away
For a film in which a husband murders his wife, Amour has been shown a lot of love. It was nominated for five Oscars, including best actress for Emmanuelle Riva, and best foreign language film, which it won.
But the manner in which the movie ends, and the apparent inevitability of such an ending, have gone largely unexamined. The reasons why euthanasia plays well with arthouse audiences - gendered euthanasia at least - have also gone unnoticed.
If Riva's character, Anne, had been the carer, and murdered her bedridden husband, Amour's critical embrace might have been considerably less warm.
One of the implicit convictions of the film is that a carer - even one as assiduous as Jean-Louis Trintignant's Georges - will crack under the strain of caring for a stroke victim. Georges is so devoted for so long that only two scenes prepare for his emotional breakdown.
One is when he slaps her. The other is a dream, foretelling violence. Georges is walking down his hallway, which is filling up with water, when he is attacked from behind by a hand over his nose and mouth. Who would not retaliate to such a brutal home invasion (which is what Anne in her changed state now represents)?
This scene even foreshadows the way he will kill her, smothering her rather than letting her die in her own chosen way, by refusing food and water.
How can the audience object when they have admired him for so long? They can see where he's coming from. Yet the circumstances shown in Amour are highly unusual. Money is no object for this couple. The carer has no pressing health issues of his own.
He is also a man. And, though highly educated, he is a man who apparently has never received any advice about caregiving. Carers are now advised to arrange respite care: to get out, eat properly, enjoy a social life. It's understood that their own health and mental wellbeing is at stake. As well as this, Georges could easily have secured more help from other agencies.
Every stoic bid for "independence" makes Georges' burden, and Anne's, greater. We never see him confiding in a friend. Staying at home alone - on the grounds that Anne refuses to be "shown" - is behaviour many experts would deem ill-advised. The couple become isolated, even rejecting offers of help from their daughter.
For her part, a daughter better educated about disability might have said words of love to her mother, and persuaded her - while it was still possible - to go out for tea, out in her wheelchair, to visit a friend.
The family doctor, who makes house calls, could certainly have provided adequate pain medication for Anne; morphine could have eased her passing. Georges had more compassionate alternatives available to him than smothering his wife with a pillow.
Even a casual viewer should be shocked that Amour ends as it does, with a murder-suicide as Georges disintegrates. He seals her room, stalks a bird, puts on his overcoat - vanishes. The fact is that however stressful caregiving may be, this is the outcome in just 0.001% of cases, in the US anyway.
While Georges' breakdown might scare watching caregivers about the possible consequences of their devotion, the film's largely adulatory reception has implications for people with no knowledge of living with disability.
Amour raises cultural risks in a western world that is already ageist, and in which stretched medical resources are meted out to older patients much less generously than to the young.
It presents a non-consensual termination of life as a solution for the carer: it justifies euthanasia. That such a film has been so widely acclaimed while remaining so ill-examined is a dangerous thing.