Thursday, 29 November 2012

Music in Amour (2012)

Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or award-winning film Amour concerns a pair of music teachers. As their relationship is put under the inevitable pragmatic strain brought with old age so the purpose of that music in their life is one of a number of facets put under scrutiny.

The opening of the film (with a trademark Haneke wide shot, inviting the audience to scrutinise the frame, in the same way that one is invited to scrutinise the film's content in general) sees the couple in the Théâtre des Champs Elysées at a piano recital, where a former pupil plays the Schubert Impromputu Op. 90, No. 1

Repeated when the pupil visits the couple at their home, the music has the dramatic trajectory of the film itself. A violent single note across gives way to a single, frail, sad melodic line for subsequent development.

(Additionally, to make a vaguely musicological suggestion for a moment: the opening note is a G in octaves, and the subsequent impromptu proper is in C minor. As G is the dominant of C - that is to say the note that, in musical semantics, poses the question that the C answers - it may be said that, if the music is an anology for the film, then its story is the consequence of the simple, catastrophic opening statement. This would appear to be the case.)

Later, the stricken wife Anne (Emanuelle Riva), is seen to play another Schubert Impromptu, the Op. 90 No. 3. This is a different sort of piece. Lyric and pastoral, it is all but a song without a singer and recalls the Romantic landscape paintings which occupy the lovely yet oblique central sequence of the film. Haneke's conceit for inserting Anne's playing of this piece in the film is also typical of his assurance in skipping across the metaphysical strata of his story.

Finally, there is the matter of J.S. Bach's Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 639, as played by Georges half-and-heavy-heartedly early on in the film. This is sacred music in cinema, the chorale prelude heard insistently throughout Tarkovsky's own great meditation on love and loss in Solaris (1972). Here it is played in Busoni's arrangement for piano.

Like all the other music in the film the character's performance of the music is cut off, with either the musician giving up or a CD player being stopped; i.e. the music stops due to the action of a character rather than through the natural causal logic of a narrative edit. The coldness of this act, its stark brutality, is temperamentally aligned with the rest of the film. It is also typical of Haneke's delight in messing with the expectations of an audience muddying narrative trajectory, diegesis and metaphysical possibility to illuminate rather than obfuscate his point.

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