Michael Haneke and Alain Resnais: Ballad with Love and Death

in 65th Cannes Film Festival

by Isabelle Danel

In the competition of the 65th Cannes Film Festival, two directors look at death, in their own different ways: Michael Haneke with Love (Amour) and Alain Resnais with You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Vous n’avez encore rien vu).

Michael Haneke, 70 years old, deals in Love with the essence of being old and in love and imminent death. Well, put like that, the journalist sees perfectly well the limit of his exercise! Words can be traitor to describe feelings and sensations! The love in question is the depth of a bound between a man and a woman, upper class, 80 years old and married for decades. They are talking beautiful language, surrounded by books and listening to classical music in a large “bourgeois” apartment in Paris that is the main (and almost only) setting of their — soon to be finished — life. One morning, Anne suddenly sits still and seems to be frozen, absent to Georges who desperately tries to wake her up, taking her old beautiful face in his old beautiful hands. After that stroke, it’s the beginning of the end. And the application day after day by the husband of the promise not to let her wife back to the hospital. “It will get worse and worse and it will last long and then it will be the end”, says Georges to their worried daughter.

Wonderfully photographed by Darius Khondji in clair obscur like the paintings the couple hang on their walls, the universe of Love is restrained and at the same time contains the whole world. Another director could easily take the spectator as hostage, and make him cry and sympathize with the two characters. Austrian born director Haneke is not one of that kind. We know the ascetic way in which, since his first film, The Seventh Continent (Der Siebenst Kontinent, 1989), he chooses to show us his visions of humanity. Love is a journey of the human soul, both cruel and smooth, as George’s character that Anne describes as a “monster but nice”, as life itself. This film about dignity and courage is enlightened by the unbelievable strength of impersonation of both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. It’s interpretation but it’s more than that because they are in flesh and bones part of what they show on screen.

Death is also at the centre of You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yetby French director Alain Resnais, 90 years old. Death is not only a reality, but it is an obsessive game. Antoine D’Anthac has just died. He was a theatre director and he assembles for his will all the actors from three generations who acted in his play, Eurydice. Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, Lambert Wilson, Anny Duperey, Michel Piccoli, part of the universe of Alain Resnais, play themselves. And they all become part of the universe of Resnais. Reality and fiction, life and death, theatre and cinema… everything is more complicated by the fact the play Eurydice (written by French author Jean Anouilh) is about bringing back from death the love of your life.

Alain Resnais is still the same kid who used to shoot super 8 movies with friends. Here, with his usual troupe of actors and technicians, he goes on with his passion and offers us a synthesis. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is a funny game and it’s a serious one. Where life imitates art and vice versa, where one can make the feelings come vivid again even if death tears us apart. It’s about falling in love for real when you play a person falling in love, about directors who can’t stop looking at their actresses. Its life seen as a perpetual change of roles, and movies shown as the same old story always told and renewed and made young again thanks to faces, spirit, hope.

Death as a subject is as old as cinema itself, and both Michael Haneke and Alain Resnais have been paying their tribute to it in most of their films for a long time. Maybe because of their familiarity with that topic, certainly because of their calm and modest genius in directing movies, both of them make it riveting, new and untold. In one word: Necessary.