Midway through Michael Haneke’s scrupulously devastating Amour, the elderly Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tells his wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), about a film he remembers watching as a child. Though he can no longer recall any details, he keenly remembers how the film made him feel, and the reminiscence brings him to tears. “The emotions remain,” he tells Anne. That scene is almost too perfect—it is, undoubtedly, Haneke’s nod to the enduring power of cinema—but it captures what makes Amour both calmly beautiful and tremendously wrenching. Over the film’s course, Austrian writer-director Haneke, ever the psychologically brutalizing provocateur, takes an unsentimental, dignified and painfully transfixing look at infirmity and mortality. Set almost entirely in Georges and Anne’s comfortable apartment in modern-day Paris, Amour lays its groundwork early. Anne has a stroke one morning, seeming to disappear mentally for several moments. She soon ends up in a wheelchair, having lost function on one side of her body. Riva’s performance is as graceful as it is heartbreaking: There’s a joyful scene in which she laughs while spinning around in her motorized wheelchair, but also moments when she expresses a complex constellation of shame, sadness and confusion. As Anne’s health declines, Georges’ posture grows stooped and his gait clumsy. Though he remains loving and attentive, anger and frustration flash through. Further strains emerge with the entrance of their only child, Eva (the excellent Isabelle Huppert). Eva is high-strung, self-involved and powerless to understand or support her parents, and Huppert rattles the proceedings to unsettling effect. Though very little happens, Haneke builds an ominously suspenseful atmosphere, both with little details—what, for example, is the symbolism of the pigeon that keeps flying into the apartment?—and with flights of narrative unreliability. Though Amour may not contain the same cold shocks of menace or cruelty as Haneke’s other films, it also does not relent in its painful realism. And that is precisely what endows it with such power.
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- Release Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Critic's Score: A
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