Michael Haneke's striking love story, Amour, is a masterpiece of restraint, intelligence and humanity.
This is the French-language film that (remarkably) has just been nominated for five Oscars: best picture, best foreign language film, best actress, best director and for best original screenplay. That gives writer-director Haneke a double nomination. Overall, that gives Amour a platform to attract more viewers. Few non-English language films manage to make such an impact with Oscar voters, but this one is a singular exception.
Amour is expected to win the best foreign language category, representing Austria. Haneke was born in Munich, Germany, but he carries an Austrian passport. The film itself is a co-production of Austria, France and Germany, although it was filmed entirely in Paris.
The accolades this film has generated are richly deserved. Amour, which also won the Palme d'Or as best film at the 2012 Cannes filmfest, is profoundly moving, a precious gift for thoughtful, mature audiences. It is nearly perfect as storytelling and it also showcases the art of traditional filmmaking. Haneke is an exacting technician, master of a skilled crew that makes absolutely no mistakes in the craft. Paradoxically, Amour was not nominated in any of Oscar's craft categories.
Amour tells the story of an elderly couple in Paris, each of whom is an octogenarian. My only quibble with Haneke is that he shows us the end of the story before starting at the beginning. This is unnecessary.
Both protagonists are retired musicians of some note. So is their slightly overbearing, usually absent daughter (Isabelle Huppert). As a couple, Georges and Anne have already shared a lifetime. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) dotes on Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) with a tenderness and respect that comes from maturation, not infatuation. Haneke has no need to stage silly flashbacks to the years of their youth to convince us of the depth and complexity of their relationship, which fuses emotional, intellectual and musical components.
But the bonds begin to break. Anne suffers a momentary lapse, later remembering nothing. Not surprisingly, Georges becomes agitated, at first because he thinks she is playing a joke, then because he realizes she is not. Anne, however, suspects Georges of a touch of madness.
So it begins, the dying of the light. How they resolves these issues, especially when Anne's condition worsens with a stroke, is the heart of the matter. No one watches Amour without feeling something deep, even disturbing, because Haneke's portrayal of these people in their twilight is so realistic, so harrowing.
Amour contains powerful emotions. Yet Haneke, as always, never indulges us. As in all his filmmaking, Haneke refuses to be sentimental or judgmental. In the case of Amour, that is part of why Amour is so enlightening and so compelling. No one is jerking our emotional chains.
The actors are both stunning, although only Riva is Oscar-nominated. Well-known in France since co-starring in Alain Resnais' legendary Hiroshima, Mon Amour in 1959, the 85-year-old Riva is the oldest-ever acting nominee in the 85-year history of the Academy Awards.
In Amour, Riva presents her character with elegant simplicity. Trintignant does exactly the same. Their honesty here is inspirational, even when the truth of our human frailties shakes us to our core.