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November 7, 2012

There are many movies made about young love; the first flush of infatuation and passion is red meat for the usual youthful demographics. A fair number are made about love over the longer term; a more thoughtful audience appreciates stories of couples being tested and surviving, scarred but standing. Very few are made about the endgame: the terrible wonder of two people bound together as one begins to go the way of all things. For this, we have Michael Haneke’s perfectly-titled Amour.

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are this couple. They have raised their family and grown into their eighties together, reaching an enviably relaxed rapport as they go about their lives. Their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), is grown and happily married; their former student, Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud), is a wildly successful concert pianist. They are stable and content.

One morning at breakfast, Anne stares blankly at Georges, unresponsive to his questions. She soon snaps out of it, but something is definitely wrong. When she returns from the hospital paralyzed down her left side, it’s clear: Anne has had a stroke, we are going to watch along with Georges as she dies, and it will be neither swift nor merciful.

It takes a filmmaker like Haneke for us to observe this process as we do. We float in an intimate space within their apartment, privy to every detail of their lives. Every frustratingly lost step and each of a thousand daily humiliations is presented clearly to our sight. Haneke paints the scenes with calm, fixed cameras gazing through the apartment, the walls cutting the frame up geometrically.

And within the frame we find Anne and Georges degenerating in parallel, Anne trapped inside herself, and Georges trapped in his love for her and the past they’ve shared, unable to pull away even to save himself.

Trintignant and Riva play dual roles, and it’s impossible to say That one is more challenging, or that either plays their role better. Riva’s physical portrayal of Anne’s advancing illness is incredible and uncompromising. Trintignant’s portrayal of Georges’ resignation is moving in its helpless poignancy.

A film like Amour is difficult to watch, and it should be. It is among the calmest, stillest movies I have ever seen, and it packs more emotional punch than almost any other. If you do not walk away shaken and disturbed, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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