Legendary actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, a long-married Parisian couple who are also professional music teachers. Shortly after attending a concert by one of their former pupils, the elderly but still active couple suffer a tremendous blow when Anne suddenly has a stroke. The rest of Amour details her slow decline, and Georges' quiet patience, as they assume their new roles of invalid and caretaker.
If you know anything about Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke, you know you're not in for a sappy, sentimental movie with cute old wrinklies reciting dewy-eyed monologues. Known for his often unbearably sadistic characters, this time Haneke casts nature itself as the sadist. Yet Amour is his warmest film yet – admittedly, that's not saying much – and its eerie, workaday quiet is as humble as it is grim. Regardless of what Georges and Anne have achieved in their lives, the drudgery they endure simply to keep Anne alive reduces them to anonymous old people who are no longer participating in the world at large. Cruel? Perhaps, but I think Haneke (who's now 70) is simply affirming that this is the fate that awaits us all. We're bedridden, eating mush, and pooping in diapers at the beginning of our lives, and so we are once again at the end.
Riva and Trintignant, who have never before performed together despite their long careers, act as though they have cohabited for fifty years. Their rapport is so informal that at times you really do feel like you're watching a real couple. Georges' devotion to Anne is touching, but he is no superhero. He is only doing what is expected of anybody whose long-term spouse is dying. There are no tears. It's just work.
Although anybody heading out to see Amour is likely prepared for psychologically painful depictions of the human body and mind in decay, it bears repeating that this is every inch a Michael Haneke film. In short, don't let your guard down. The director's brutality is, as always, right around the corner.