Love and Death

December 23, 2012

Last week, I went to the film Amour Michael Heneke. It’s well worth seeing for the two central performances, by Jean-Louis Trintignan and Emmanuelle Riva, who play a couple of retired music teachers (Georges and Anne) in their eighties, and also the appearance by Isabelle Huppert, playing their self-involved daughter.  The story revolves around what happens when Anne has a stroke and becomes helplessly dependent on Georges, as she moves slowly towards death. The couple become marooned in their elegant but crumbling Paris apartment, Georges struggling to cope with the situation on his own. The film was a serious look at the bleak way in which all our lives inevitably end, in pain and misery, unless we meet a violent or sudden death – which actually began to seem an attractive alternative by the end of this film. I did respect the director’s ambition to tackle the subject so courageously, and despite its many long, slow passages, the film was thoroughly absorbing.  However, I almost felt the director took a sadistic pleasure in revealing the horror of death, denying us any comforting thoughts about what surely, at least sometimes, must lighten the load – a certain kind of black humour, the support of family and friends, for instance.  I couldn’t help comparing the relationship with another one I’ve been following recently – that of Hank and Marie in the brilliant TV series Breaking Bad.  Hank isn’t dying, but he’s become severely disabled and thoroughly bad-tempered, while Marie’s reaction to the stress of the situation has taken the form of kleptomania.  As ever in the series, even the bleakest of situations is leavened by moments of surreal hilarity. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference: the French couple were heroic, reserved, stoical, while the Americans alternated between being vile-tempered, mentally unbalanced, and touchingly demonstrative. I rather preferred the American way.

tau tau

Death reared its ugly head again in an exhibition at the Wellcome Trust in London, which I visited as a jolly Christmas outing this week. I very much enjoyed it. It was mostly to do with skeletons, which somehow seem to have a reckless, cheery quality about them as they rattle their bones and grin. The most memorable effigy, I thought, was a tau tau, an Indonesian ‘grave guardian’ which really had a strange, otherworldly quality about it. There were some gruesome works about war by Otto Dix and Goya but overall the collection was quite a tonic, I found  – if only because it made me appreciate the fact that I’m still in the land of the living.

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