Euthanasia and the Golden Palm

Haneke wins highest honour for film exploring euthanasia

The Palme d’Or is the highest award at the world’s most important festival of cinema. Founded in 1946, it is the most prestigious and publicized film festival on the planet. And this year, the Palme d’Or was won by the highly respected Michael Haneke – for his movie exploring old age, the approach of death and, implicitly, euthanasia.

When there are so many movies celebrating the question of a good and peaceful death, why make such a fuss about Haneke’s? Let me tell you why. So often, a film will come down in favour of euthanasia. Right-to-die supporters clamour to say how strongly and movingly it ‘makes its point’ – but does it really?

This year, the BBC, hardly a bastion of anti-establishment ideas, has been frequently criticised for its ‘pro-euthanasia’ stance. Any bias might be more perceived than real, but the reality is that anti-euthanasia groups get a chance to be heard, to demand their side, to say that Pratchett’s coverage of Dignitas was not ‘balanced.’

In the end, it is mainly the right-to-die supporters who are ‘convinced.’

But art works at a different level. It is able to stimulate the viewer at higher realm of awareness. It works not to preach a viewpoint but to create beauty – sometimes with a consciousness of issues that goes beyond the usual diatribes of “for” and “against.” In fact for-and-against battles and debates often serve merely to polarise an already controversial topic. Most members of society are not passionate advocates one way or the other: they simply have a healthy interest in the “issues.”

Haneke believes that films should offer viewers more space for imagination and self reflection. Films that have too much detail and moral clarity, Haneke argues, are used for mindless consumption by their viewers. Amour (“Love”) is his second film to win the much sought-after award. It stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as an elderly couple struggling to cope after one of them suffers a series of strokes. “This film is an illustration of the promise we made to each other, if either one of us finds ourselves in the situation that is described in the film,” said Haneke.

His films are often seen as the opposite of mainstream American cinema, that tells us what to think, what to feel. “My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.” Amour is set for release in America on December 19th, 2012, and in the UK on November 16th.

Amour has so many plot twists as it approaches the handling of an assisted death that it will keep your moral compass on high alert.

References
The Cannes Film Festival
Article in The Guardian newspaper (with clips from the film)
Winner announced
Applause at the ceremony as Haneke accepts award
BBC coverage
Coverage by The Independent newspaper
Review of the film

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