Our thanks to guest blogger Salva Rubio, a Spanish author and screenwriter currently hired to develop four feature films. He is also an international script analyst, and has analyzed screenplays of such writers and directors as David Cronenberg, Paolo Sorrentino, Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, Marjane Satrapi, Michael Mann, Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, Gus Van Sant, Eric Rohmer, Stephen Frears, Walter Salles, Jane Campion, Claude Chabrol and Larry Clark. Check his work at www.salvarubio.info.
Although I am a working screenwriter, I still gladly accept reading scripts for the industry, mostly because I hold a rare privilege: I am handed scripts by really big names, movies that have not been shot yet, as they are seeking distribution in Europe.
As you can judge by the aforementioned list, most of those directors are usually labeled as indie and auteur, usually meaning “the opposite of Hollywood” in any sense. But I have found several times that their scripts are perfectly classical and play with Hollywood scripts’ traditional rules — although the resulting movies might not seem so.
Michael Haneke’s Amour is a perfect example. Winner of the Cannes Palme D’Or and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and so “indie” in both tone and subject matter, this masterpiece resonates like any other “classic” film.
And what better way to prove it that trying the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet on it? Mind you, lots of spoilers ahead! (Also: this is not the finished movie, but this script.)
Written and directed by: Michael Haneke
Even from its title, Amour questions if an elderly couple can keep their love alive when physical decadence and death arrive. And it further asks — or does it state? — that love can be shown even in the terrible act of ending your most loved one’s life. Terrible, but it is so Haneke-ish to question our deepest fears in the most brutal, yet subtle way.
The first thing a script reader will notice is that it only has 67 pages, far from the usual 110. This is caused by the slow pace of the movie, but will this short screenplay hit every beat proportionally in its place?
Opening Image: A dead woman is lying alone in bed, semi-decomposed. Who left her there? What happened to her? Consider this is almost a thriller-ish start for an auteur movie!
Set-Up/Theme Stated: Some months before, we meet Georges and Anne, an elderly music-loving couple of about 80, “both relaxed and happy.” Anne states the theme of the movie: “But who would do something like that?” A recurring theme in Haneke’s work: sometimes normal people can do the unthinkable.
Catalyst: In a 110-page script, the Catalyst moment often arrives at page 12. Where should it appear in a 67 page script? Right on page 6, where it belongs proportionally: “Hmmm? Anne? What is the matter?” Anne suffers some kind of stroke and the couple’s everyday peace is broken.
Debate: The main characters try to understand their situation (The debate: “My life has changed. What to do now?”) while trying to keep things normal and their lives as unaffected as possible. What will Georges and Anne do now? Here, we also meet their daughter, Eva, our B Story character.
Break into Two: So again, in a “normal” script, the Break into Two moment happens around page 25-30, so will the math be right again in this European flick? It should happen in page 15 or 16… and it happens right there! Anne is taken back to the house after suffering an irreversible paralysis. We are in the second act by now, and there will be no turning back, as she makes Georges promise that he will not take her to the hospital again.
B Story: Georges and Eva talk. It is clear they are no longer close (if they ever were) and that Eva’s marriage is hollow, but the scene ends with Eva’s revealing how she understood — and was reassured — as a child how much Georges and Anne loved each other.
Fun and Games: Well, nothing happening in this movie is actually “fun,” but as you know, in this section the writer must provide us with the promise of the premise, and he really delivers: how will an elderly couple deal with paralysis? How does one care for a person with special needs? Will their love stay intact? The plot lightens and we learn with Georges how to put Anne in bed, how to deal with nosy neighbors, how to exercise, and how to keep a certain degree of intimacy and dignity between them.
Midpoint: Another favorite of mine, the always hard-to-nail but ever-satisfying Midpoint, which includes the false victory that Georges experiences when he thinks that Anne might get better, the raised stakes when she announces she’d like to die and he rejects that idea (very important, because Georges’ arc is accepting her death, which ironically he will execute), the public outing A/B Story cross when her daughter and son-in-law come to visit. And all these moments happen around page 34, right in the middle, where they should happen in a Hollywood-esque script!
Bad Guys Close In: The second part of Act 2 starts, the time for Georges to face rising problems while he tries to fulfill his goal of helping Anne survive. But it is futile, because sickness and her deteriorating state is taking a toll on how they express their love — as Anne’s body continues to fail, she even begins to lose her ability to speak. Georges tries also to deal with Eva and the nurses, and everything is starting to be too much for him.
All Is Lost: The darkest moment for the protagonist, when he feels that his fight is useless after receiving the most serious blow: Anne decides to stop eating or drinking, no matter if he tries to force her. Their relationship, their amour is also at the lowest point, and it will end (at least literally) with her death. All is really lost!
Dark Night of the Soul: How can you keep alive a person who has decided to die? How must Georges react to her wish? After all, it is her last act of will. This is Georges contemplating “death.”
Break into Three: The time comes for Georges to have a revelation after his doubts. And it is Anne’s words (“Help, help, help…”) that make him decide that she actually needs his help… not for trying to live, but to stop her suffering. Finally, Georges decides to change his strategy: “Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.”
Finale: Loose ends are tied (Georges preparing the house, talking to Eva, etc.) and then he smothers Anne with a pillow. If every movie has a duel, this is it! The main character has confronted and overcome his greatest fear — that of losing his wife — by effectively killing her, presented as an act of mercy because he has stopped her suffering, ironically, out of his love for her.
Closing Image: Georges prepares his own journey as the celebrated dove scene happens. How can we not think of this as the traditional symbol of the fleeting soul? The movie has finished and Georges’ character arc is complete: from loving his wife so much that he would do anything to keep their love alive, to understanding that “everything” includes killing her. As a coda, another woman is left alone in the house — this time, their grieving daughter, Eva.