Movie review: Amour

05:00 AM, Feb 08, 2013

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva star in Michael Haneke's "Amour." (Films du Losange/Sony Pictures Classics)/

Written By Claudia Puig | USA Today

Critics rating: 9

As it unflinchingly faces mortality, Amour is full of incomparably beautiful and sad moments.

There’s nothing reassuring in its dry-eyed examination of decrepitude. Director Michael Haneke doesn’t sentimentalize the serious illness of the film’s aged female lead. Taking place almost entirely inside an apartment, the march toward death grows increasingly oppressive. Yet this is a humanistic film, infused with subtle emotion and profound honesty.

The opening scene is jarring. Police burst into a well-appointed Parisian apartment. Then the movie flashes back and the portrait of a long marriage emerges in all its complexity.

Veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give uncommonly lyrical performances as Georges and Anne, a couple married over 50 years, in this deliberately paced film.

One night Georges wakes up to find Anne sitting up in bed and staring off. The next morning brings a similar episode.

Then suddenly Anne is back to normal, as if nothing happened.

Georges is increasingly worried. Their exact ages are never stipulated, but they are likely in their 80s. They have a middle-aged daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert).

Medical tests reveals Anne has an obstruction of the carotid artery. An operation fails.

When their daughter tries to intervene, Georges shoos her away.

We’ll manage all right,” he tells Eva. “We’ve always coped, your mother and I.”

Amour has a universal quality. Everyone with aging or terminally ill loved ones will sense familiar moments. Anyone with a spouse will recognize the intimate insularity of married life. And yet, amid this broader perspective, Haneke tells a very singular story of one couple and their inter-reliance.

Both feel time running out.

There are so many stories I never told you,” Georges says. But he’s no ministering angel. He loses his temper when she spits out a pill and reflexively slaps her, then is instantly apologetic.

More often than not, Anne and Georges are kind and courteous with one another. But nothing is exactly as it seems.

Georges’ final words to Anne are not of departure, nor even of love. But they are tenderly matter-of-fact: “It’s a shame.”

Amour is a contemplative, minimalist tale at once intricately constructed and emotionally haunting.