Unsentimental and unflinching in its study of love of an elderly couple, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning Amour is a quietly devastating memento mori of a life lived. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give flawlessly nuanced performances as Georges and Anne, retired music teachers in their 80s, living in a beautifully furnished, book-lined Paris apartment with a baby grand piano. They are happy, affectionate and active (we see them attending a concert by one of Anne’s former pupils in the film’s first few scenes); but their contentment is shattered when Anne suffers a stroke which paralyzes one arm (and slowly, the rest of her body), accompanied by progressive dementia. Amour traces their journey through Georges’ increasingly weary eyes as he continues to care for Anne at home (“Promise me that you will not send me back to the hospital,” Anne tells Georges after she returns from her first operation), while he continues to deal with the difficult relationship he has with his grownup musician daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert; read our interview with the French actress).

What is so remarkable about Amour is that writer-director Haneke has masterfully and thoughtfully conceived the mise en scene of a family home that has become a barricaded, besieged place, and revealed that the lives and cares of outsiders—friends and even close family—have become utterly unwelcome and almost meaningless. He achieves this by taking us through each stage of Anne’s deterioration using long, elegant takes to tell this harsh story. By setting Amour solely inside an apartment, the film also offers a searing glimpse into old age, when there’s no escaping the knowledge that we are moving though time, and that time will have its way with us eventually.

Characters like Eva and Anne’s various caretakers, although given substantial screen time, are cast with a distanced eye which makes them feel like complete strangers in the film (although they are not depicted as uncharacteristically unsympathetic ones, too). That, coupled with two of the finest big screen performances this year (both Trintignant and Riva do not only act here; rather they deliver to audiences the “experience” of their characters) make Amour the most disquieting, touching, and by a long shot, the best movie of the year. Words can barely describe the emotional impact this masterpiece has on us—you simply have to see it to experience it. This is intelligent filmmaking of the highest order.

Terry Ong
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Opening Date: 
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Running Time: 
2 hr/ 07 min.
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