Anne and Georges are elderly Parisians taking life’s victory lap.
Their child is grown and married. Pianists and piano teachers, they can attend concerts and listen to CDs of their famous former students. Their routines are as set and comfortable — he knows which books she likes and recommends them, she knows how he takes his eggs. And they still have so much to talk about with one another.
But a stroke interrupts that. Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is about what happens afterwards, the steep decline, the physical and emotional challenges facing the still-healthy half of the couple. It’s about the limits and ultimate expressions of love, about what a loving couple has after everything that they’ve shared in their lives together is gone.
Haneke (“Funny Games,” “Cache,” “The Piano Teacher,” “White Ribbon”) has tackled a difficult subject that is unpleasant to watch, more unpleasant to think about. But the 70-year-old filmmaker has done it with taste, discretion and sympathy.
DIRECTED BY: Michael Haneke
STARRING: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes; in French with subtitles
Part of that sympathy is inherent in the casting of this Cannes award winner. Emmanuelle Riva, 85, gained international fame in 1959’s Alain Renais film, “Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” fearlessly gives us the grimly afflicted and fading Anne. And as adoring Georges, we have the great Jean-Louis Trintignant, who turns 82 this month, a mainstay of the French and international cinema since the 1950s (“And God Created Woman”), with more than a few classics (“Z”) on his resume as well.
At first, Georges can joke about this end-of-life stuff — “It’s all terribly exciting.” He tries to reassure their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) that “We’ve always coped, your mother and I.”
But Anne, newly confined to a wheelchair, extracts a promise. “Please, never take me back to the hospital.” And as life becomes a dilemma of never having a nurse there when he needs to pick her up and the humiliations and indignities of infirmity kick in, she makes another request in the form of a declaration: “I don’t want to go on.”
Of course, one of the curses of modern life in much of the world is that people do, often long past the point where living has any purpose or pleasure to it. They cannot feed themselves, cannot use the toilet. Their minds go and they can’t read, listen to music or communicate with anything other than great difficulty. That’s what Haneke gets at as this overlong, unblinking meditation on life’s last act. He’s not showing us anything new, but he’s determined to make us look and consider what we never talk about — how we want to die.
“Amour” isn’t romantic. “Amour” is about love after the romance, life after life has lost its meaning and that “terribly exciting” phase that all of us face and few of us are prepared to.