In other words, the guy is definitely not the lovey-dovey type.
But that unblinking, cold-blooded aesthetic is largely what makes Amour, coming to home video after an Academy Award win for Best Foreign Language Film, so remarkable. In its depiction of an elderly Parisian couple coming to terms with illness and looming death, the film is almost brutal in its rejection of sentimentality.
Haneke tells the story of the genial pair, Georges and Anne Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva), with chilly calculation. There are long takes and exquisitely choreographed camera movement. Together with brilliant performances of its principal actors, Amour is an unflinchingly honest portrait of a love not often seen on screen: the kind that survives past youth and romance to endure the most painful of trials.
The screenplay by Haneke is deceptively straightforward. Anne, a former piano teacher, suffers a mild stroke. That is followed by another episode, then an unsuccessful surgery and, eventually, rapid physical and mental decay. She loses the ability to walk, to speak. Georges hires a part-time nurse, but the additional care cannot hope to relieve the couple’s anguish. The Laurents' grown daughter (Isabelle Huppert, a Haneke regular) visits occasionally, but is no comfort to her father, who grows impatient with her simplistic, if well-meaning, offers of help.
Sound like a fun night's viewing, right? There's no disputing that Amour is a tough, emotionally grueling watch. But it is also a powerful meditation of love and commitment. Trintignant and Riva, both of whom have appeared in some masterpieces of international film — he in 1970's The Conformist, she in 1959's Hiroshima, Mon Amour — are riveting. The two plumb considerable emotional depths with restraint and admirable subtlety, and never hit a false note; Riva's performance, for which she was nominated for Best Actress, is one for the ages, not just the aged. —Phil Bacharach
Hey! Read This:
• Funny Games film review
• The White Ribbon film review