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 set and comfortable — he knows which books she likes and recommends them; she knows how he takes his eggs. They still have so much to talk about with each other.
But a stroke interrupts that.
Michael Haneke's Amour is about what happens afterward, 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 have after everything they've shared in their lives together is gone.
Haneke (Caché, The Piano Teacher, White Ribbon, the U.S. and French versions of Funny Games) has tackled a difficult subject that is unpleasant to watch and more unpleasant to think about. But the 70-year-old filmmaker has done it with taste, discretion and sympathy.
Part of that sympathy is inherent in the casting. Best actress Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva, 85, who gained international fame in Alain Resnais' 1959 film Hiroshima, Mon Amour, fearlessly gives us the grimly afflicted and fading Anne. As adoring Georges, we have the great Jean-Louis Trintignant, 82, a mainstay of the French and international cinema since the 1950s (And God Created Woman), with more than a few classics (Z) on his résumé 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): "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." As life becomes a dilemma of never having a nurse there when he needs to pick up Anne 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 in 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.
PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language. Sony Pictures Classics. In French with subtitles. 2:05. Kentucky Theatre.