Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)
Easily one of the most heart-wrenching cinematic experiences of the last decade, the foreign drama “Amour” also comes with its rewards if you are a serious art-house moviegoer. While the film’s main focus is the slow and painful death of an 80-year-old former music teacher, Austrian director/writer Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon,” “Cache”) brings to the forefront the relationship between two characters that will make you reconsider your own priorities. It’s an extremely affecting insight into the thought process of a man who would do anything for the woman he’s loved his entire life.
In “Amour,” Haneke introduces us to Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a married couple in their 80s who have both retired as music educators and are now enjoying their twilight years together in their quaint Paris apartment. Their daily routines are evident. The two operate as one and as succinctly as the inner-workings of a complex clock. Who knows what would happen if one of the cogs stopped rotating?
But when Anne has a stroke – and then another – Georges is faced with the realization that the life he and his wife once shared will never be the same. Now, Georges is playing another role in his marriage he has never played before: caretaker. It might not be something that anyone plans for, but Georges does his best to be accommodating. He understands Anne needs him more than ever, but with his advanced age and the pressures of having to attend to someone 24/7, no one can really blame Georges when the grief sets in deep. He knows the end is near.
Haneke’s gentle way of conducting the issues at hand are natural and poetic. The film, which is Oscar-nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture (along with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Haneke), is a devastatingly sad one to witness. There are moments during “Amour” that are so isolated and sorrowful it’s almost as if you’re incarcerated yourself in this quiet apartment with Georges and Anne. As the oldest Best Actress Oscar nominee in cinematic history, Riva is astounding. While most of her performance is delivered without much dialogue, especially as her character’s health continues to decline, Rivas anchors the film in a way that is empathetic and honest.
Never does “Amour” lose its footing and take the easy, melodramatic way out. Like its characters, there is a consistent grace and modesty about it that makes it all the more genuine. It’s a contribution Haneke, even after all the success he’s had during his 15-year feature film career, should be remembered for.