Opening with a boom (an apartment door being broken down by police ) and ending in silence (Eva–played by Isabelle Huppert–entering the same apartment, her parents’, and then sitting, engulfed in melancholy, in their living room), Michael Haneke’s great new film, “Amour,” tracks the inevitable cruelty of illness and death.
Haneke’s latest characters named Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), are in their 80s, long-married, cultivated Parisians, musicians and former music teachers. After Anne has a series of debilitating strokes, Haneke, whose films are often permeated with dread, anxiety and potential and actual violence, also shows what of love can endure when one of the partners in a couple is gravely diminished.
“Amour” observes stillness–Anne’s paralysis after her second stroke–and works with stillness–few camera movements, the music on the soundtrack almost adhering to Dogma principles and a color palette so muted that a roll of pink toilet paper screams off the screen.
I’ve seen “Amour” twice. Haneke’s profound film is so unsentimental that both times, as the end credits rolled, although I can cry watching a commercial, I sat dry-eyed and frozen.
I’ve shot stills on several films. Working on European films, where a scene is often run just for stills, is a fun job. But on American films, the work is frequently difficult in a way that has nothing to do with its technical demands. The AD shoos the photographer away from anything that could be considered a good angle–often far away–but everyone (including the AD) later asks enthusiastically, “Did you get the shot?”
The Swiss director Alain Tanner hired me to shoot stills for the New York scenes of his 1987 film, “La vallée fantôme.” (In France five years earlier I had taken a long train detour to photograph him at home in Geneva).
Tanner’s cast and crew had been working together in Europe for several weeks before arriving in New York. On my first day on the set, I tried to be unobtrusive and get a sense of how I could work. They set up for the first shot, Jean-Louis Trintignant sitting on a shabby sofa. It was impossible for me to shoot during the rehearsal and after the final take, as I was panicking, the extremely handsome, charismatic, iconic French actor looked around, calling out my job description, “Photos du plateau?” Relieved and grateful (and more than a little wow’d), I rushed into place.