A multiple Oscar nominee this year, “Amour” is a wholly unadulterated look at a couple’s last days of love and life, and a film aimed specifically at very mature adults.
Directed by Michael Haneke, the sober French drama focuses on Anne (Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), two retired music teachers in their 80s living a quiet life in Paris. One day, Anne suffers a stroke, and then another, leaving her half-paralyzed and, eventually, incapacitated. Shattered, Georges tries to care for his ailing wife, keeping her at home despite pleas to the contrary from the couple’s daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
Indeed, “Amour” is bursting with authenticity, unflinching as it is in regard to mortality and the inevitability of loss. Both Riva and Trintignant are effortlessly divine, giving life to a couple as real as any to hit the screen this year. But the amount of praise bestowed on the film is somewhat odd, for although it treads uncommon ground in telling an end-of-life love story, it’s undeniably cold, as is typical of Haneke’s work.
Awards bodies don’t often embrace this Austrian auteur, who has earned critical kudos for near-nihilistic films like “Caché” and “Funny Games.” He’s hugely talented, but Haneke seems emotionally unreachable, and his latest does little to change that. From title on down, “Amour” is sold as a humanistic effort, with universal resonance and gritty thoughts on devotion. But that’s just window dressing for Haneke’s same stark sensibility, which leaves one in a state of gloomy despair.
“Amour” sees Georges exude great love for Anne, but it also sees him fall victim to a crushing hopelessness, for which the film offers no solace or remedy. When Anne indeed dies, some may see her manner of parting as merciful, but it doesn’t ease the movie’s icy sting.
As we soldier through this life, we are all surely withering as we go, but one of the functions of art is to bring richness and beauty to the journey. There’s unapologetic realism, and then there are movies like this, which, for all their sincerity, seem chiefly driven to depress.
Two reels out of four
Opens Friday at the Ritz Five
With “In Bruges,” Irish filmmaker Martin McDonagh delivered one of the best films of 2008. Now McDonagh is back with his sophomore feature, another crime comedy about a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) whose strange friends get him entangled in L.A.’s nasty underworld. The acclaimed film boasts a talented supporting cast, rounded out by the likes of Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell. Throw in a few dames and one pivotal Shih Tzu, and you’ve got a killer action caper.
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