Film icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva invest every moment with life and history.
AMOUR written and directed by Michael Haneke, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert and William Shimell. A Mongrel Media release. Subtitled. 127 minutes. Opens Friday (January 11). See times. Rating: NNNNN
I never want to see Amour again. That's a testament to its power.
Michael Haneke's minimalist, unforgiving drama focuses exclusively on an aging husband and wife, Georges and Anne, whose lives disintegrate after she's paralyzed by a stroke and he devotes himself to her care. Their well-appointed Paris apartment, filled with books, music and art, becomes a suffocating crucible of misery as her body fails, his falters and the bad end we've seen in an opening flash-forward creeps ever closer.
It turns out there's no better filmmaker to chronicle the tiny, cumulative miseries of old age than an emotional sadist like Haneke, who's been chasing the title of Europe's most austere and unforgiving auteur for a quarter-century with films like Benny's Video, The Piano Teacher and two versions of Funny Games.
In Amour, Haneke abandons the stylistic tricks of Code Unknown and Caché and the black-and-white moralizing of The White Ribbon, settling for long, excruciating takes and sharply rendered close-ups of his actors, the better to show us the weary wrinkles in Jean-Louis Tringtignant's face and the exhausted pleading in Emmanuelle Riva's eyes. (That these actors embody the history of the last half-century of European cinema, having starred in everything from Hiros;hima, Mon Amour to The Conformist, is not happenstance.)
As Georges and Anne endure their long, awful spiral, Haneke simply brings his camera tighter and tighter on their faces, trapping us in space and time with the increasingly infirm characters. I'm not claustrophobic, but the experience of watching Amour in a small screening room last summer was unbearable. At one point, Haneke turns a simple sequence of Georges moving the paralyzed Anne from her bed to a chair into a nerve-shredding, heart-in-mouth aria of suspense.
Amour is an unapologetically manipulative film. Haneke has always been good at torturing his audience, but this time there's a soul working its way out from under the misery. Two souls, to be specific: Trintignant and Riva invest their every moment with life and history. As a result, Amour is harder to shake off than any horror film you can think of - and twice as disturbing.