Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges
Emmanuelle Riva as Anne
Isabelle Huppert as Eva
Alexandre Tharaud as Alexandre
William Shimell as Geoff
Rita Blanco as Concierge
Carole Franck as Nurse
Dinara Droukarova as Nurse
What is the real definition of love? Not the immediate flash of romance and drama on first meeting or during high tension, but the day in, day out slog of living with someone through their best and worst impulses. The responsibility and follow through of taking complete care of someone, be it an infant son or an elderly parent, without giving in to the aggravations of such care. That is what writer-director Michael Haneke ("Funny Games") is after in his extremely spare, uncompromising drama.
His focus for the question is a married couple who are about to be tested on the needs and limits of love. A successful pair of music teachers, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are living a comfortable, near-retired existence, going to the odd concert and keeping a long distance, strained relationship with their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) and generally going about their daily routine.
Or at least they did, until Anne suffers a brief trance-like state which becomes eventually a small stroke, paralyzing the right side of her body and becoming the precursor to an increasing bout of dementia and loss of self. And with no one to bear witness, or the responsibility, Georges refuses to give her up no matter how hard their new life becomes.
The result is absolutely gripping.
Much of that comes down to the actors themselves. Haneke has wisely decided to stay out of the way of his own story, filming "Amour" largely as a series of masters and two-shots (set almost entirely within the couple's apartment barring one scene early on) and letting them just play out, leaving the viewer intensely aware of their nature as a voyeur looking on two people's shared lives.
Semi-shared, at least. As Anne drifts further and further away, "Amour" becomes a portrait of patience and suffering as Georges refuses to give her up or give up his time with her despite the protestations of friends and family. In particular Eva, who herself is in a failing marriage with a philandering husband she cannot yet separate herself from and who (likely because of her different perspective on the reality of amour) can't understand why her father insists on caring for her mother himself.
Just as with his shot selection, Haneke stays out of the way of his story, only occasionally letting us glimpse Georges and Anne's past to compare with the present, but only occasionally.
The rest of the time it is just Georges and Anne, Jean-Louis and Emmanuelle, who are riveting. On the face of it, Riva has the most difficult job, realistically sinking into Anne's living decomposition and baring herself completely in the process. But if acting is reacting then it is Trintignant who is carrying "Amour" on his shoulders as he is ultimately the one dealing with Anne's disease.
As to be expected from a Haneke film, it is completely unsparing in the avenues it heads down, while also quite slow, offering few details and little in the way of obvious panache. Sometimes the simpleness seems a waste of the talent of a photographer like Darius Khondji, but the result is much more rich and fulfilling than it might sound.
"Amour" is not an easy film by any stretch of the imagination, but for those in search of art without pretension or affectation, this is the way it's done.