© 2013 Ray Wong

French movie Amour is an intimate, extremely personal and nuanced look at aging and dying that calling it "entertainment" would be tremendously wrong.

Retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in the 80s and have settled into their routines. They have been married for over fifty years and they take pride in their achievements especially in a special student named Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud) who has become a world-famous, celebrated pianist.

Unbeknownst to their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) and son-in-law Geoff (William Shimell), Anne has been diagnosed with a blood clog, and treatment has failed. Anne's condition begins to deteriorate rapidly as she has a mini-stroke. Her illness puts a huge burden on Georges, who is not completely in good health himself. But love endures, and they would not dare to impose on Eva. Anne asks Georges to never send her to the hospital again, and Georges reluctantly agrees.

As Anne's condition continue to deteriorate, Georges find it more and more difficult to cope on his own, but he's made a promise to Anne. So instead he's dipping into their savings by hiring two part-time nurses, and Georges will take care of Anne in between their shifts. Still, they are just counting the days when the inevitable will come, and every day becomes an emotional challenge of them.

A lot of attention has been given to Emmanuelle Riva (Can't Say No) and her Oscar-nominated performance as Anne. A veteran French actress and unfamiliar to most Americans, Riva is indeed amazing as the dying woman whose only mode of communication with her loved ones is via unintelligible speech and her eyes. Playing an invalid is not easy, and Riva makes us ache with her impeccable and heart-wrenching portrayal.

Yet I have to say Jean-Louis Trintignant (Janis and John) who practically came out of retirement to play Georges, Anne's doting husband and caretaker, is even more superb. The patience, annoyance, pain, and love in the character is expressed in such understated but affecting way that we feel for Georges even more than we feel for Anne. He is the one who is living every moment of agony by watching his loved one suffers with no end in sight, and no one to help him.

The small support cast includes Isabelle Huppert (The Nun) as Georges' and Anne's rather distant daughter, Eva; real-life pianist Alexandre Tharaud as their student prodigy; and William Shimell (Certified Copy) as their often-absent son-in-law.

Writer-director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) has crafted an unabashedly intimate and personal drama that is devoid of any tricks and spectacles. In fact, the story is so "mundane" that one can only imagine this is truly a work of personal conviction and not of commercial prospects. Haneke's screenplay is full of nuanced dialogue, seemingly going on and on about everyday's life and uneventful details that at first glance, it sounds boring. Who wants to listen to two senior citizens talking about breakfast? But buried in that mundane dialogue and everyday details is a deep affection between the two characters and an extremely powerful connection that only people who have been truly in love can understand.

What is true love? Haneke explores that theme with the hardest of all challenges in any relationship: sickness and death. I remember someone once said to be, "True love is when you have to wipe your loved one's ass." Literally that's what Georges has to do for Anne, and it's difficult to watch. Coupled with outstanding acting, the story is simple yet elegantly told, with a powerful emotional core without melodrama and overt manipulation.

This is not an easy film to watch -- it is slow moving; it is personal; it is devastating. And yet out of all that is a true love story about two people who absolutely love each other, till death do they part. And that's Amour!

Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Distributor: Sony Classics
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief language
Running Time: 127 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 9
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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