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‘Amour’ a heart-wrenching story of true, undying love

  • Published Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, at 12:30 a.m.



* * * 1/2

(In French with English subtitles)

Rating: PG for mature thematic material involving a disturbing act, and for brief language

Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant

Written and directed by: Michael Haneke

The story at the heart of the French film “Amour” (“Love”) is a touching one, about true, undying love and responsibility. But it’s also downright heartwrenching, driven by beautifully realized performances — especially from Emmanuelle Riva, who rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for this role. She’s now the oldest person to be nominated for best actress.

The film, which opened Friday at Warren Theatre (east), also is only the fifth film to be nominated for best picture and best foreign language film, joining the ranks of “Z,” “The Emigrants,” “Life Is Beautiful” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It also received nominations for best director (Michael Haneke) and original screenplay.

It starts with elderly married couple Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) as they come home from a classical concert. It was an enjoyable evening out, and we get the feeling that they have settled comfortably into their lives as retired musicians.

But then the next day at breakfast, Anne has a strange episode — she suddenly stares into space, unresponsive to anything Georges says. She doesn’t move when he shakes her, either. Unsure what to do, Georges gently wipes her forehead with a damp cloth, accidentally leaving the tap water running. He goes to get his coat and take her to the hospital. Suddenly, he hears the tap water go off.

“You left the water running,” Anne says matter-of-factly when Georges returns to the room. He tells her of the episode, but she has no recollection of it. Georges is understandably concerned.

Though she doesn’t want to go, Georges takes her to a doctor, and it’s discovered that Anne had a stroke. She is quickly hospitalized and treated, but has another stroke. An operation goes unsuccessfully, leaving her left side paralyzed.

She eventually is released from the hospital and sent home. Once there, she asks Georges to sit and talk to her. She makes him promise to not put her back in the hospital, no matter what happens or how bad she gets. Georges is reluctant, but agrees.

From there, Anne’s condition worsens, and Georges struggles with caring for her. They eventually hire nurses to help, as the situation begins to overwhelm Georges.

Director Haneke’s stark style is used for fine dramatic effect. He likes long, static takes without quick edits. This stylistic choice provoked terror in his previous films, such as “Funny Games.” It became unnerving. In “Amour,” it’s still unsettling, but creates an intimacy, especially with Anne. The camera lingers on her as she struggles to do daily tasks or as Georges begs her to eat, while she spits the food out at him.

Anne’s deterioration is heartbreaking, especially as we watch Georges struggle to cope. While Riva’s performance is brilliant, Trintignant’s is every bit as impressive. He never screams on the outside, but we can see the frustration in his eyes. We can see it start to take its toll on him, ever so slowly.

The whole film is a slow burn, with a tragic yet cathartic ending. The film’s potent emotional resonance, though, is not for the weary.

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