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'Amour' Explores Love and Death

Powerful and provocative French film follows a couple's final challenge

Director: Michael Haneke
Rating: PG-13. Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min.
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
In French with English subtitles

"Your concern is no use to me," 80-something Georges tells his daughter, who worries about him caring for his dying wife at home. "I don't have time to deal with your concern."

Indeed, he does not. Georges' days are an endless blur of lifting, lowering, feeding, medicating, negotiating with doctors and caregivers … and most of all, watching the woman he has loved his entire life slip away.

Amour, writer/director Michael Haneke's two-hour-plus meditation on commitment, love and the areas where they dovetail (and occasionally cancel each other out), is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who has ever served as a high-intensity caregiver will feel as if Haneke has been around hiding in a closet or lurking outside a window. The physical and atmospheric things that he gets right — the dead light from the curtained windows, the still life of meds and paraphernalia on the end table, the awkward arrangement of chairs around the rented hospital bed — heighten Amour's sense of ominous realism.

But this is no stark slice-of-life narrative. Amour is as artful as it is authentic. As Georges, veteran French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a thoughtful plodder — performing the rituals of caregiving but seldom losing sight of the significance of each act. As his wife, Anne, Emmanuelle Riva is not brave, nor is she pitiful — she faces her fate fiercely and eventually turns her lonely battle inward, much to the dismay of Georges, who feels compelled to participate in her decline. Director Haneke holds a shot longer than just about any other filmmaker around, and while his technique heightens that sense of endless days and relentless routines, his faultless sense of composition renders each scene uniquely compelling.

The film's drama plays out almost entirely in a lovely Paris apartment, through which pass their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) and the couple's former music students. As the visitors come and go, each one as well-meaning as the last, Georges' exasperation grows. Just as Anne has set off on a path of her own, Georges senses that he, too, is on his own journey. Visitors, to him, are little more than a mounting distraction.

I can't say you'll enjoy Amour. That would probably be an inappropriate reaction, in fact. Hollywood has conditioned us to expect swelling violins and tearful, meaningful final exchanges as characters draw close to death. Within the four walls of Georges and Anne's apartment, there's very little in the way of drama and nothing in the way of ceremony. When the end finally comes, it occurs in a manner that we never really expect, yet find hauntingly inevitable.

At Amour's final frame, we find ourselves with Georges' daughter, wandering around the apartment, wondering what to think. And that is precisely the idea.