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Mercy and Murder 

Michael Haneke's Best Picture nominated 'Amour' is a frightening look at love

Now in their 80s and retired, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) have been married who knows how long, but there's no guesswork about the kind of marriage it is. "Did I mention you looked very pretty tonight?" Georges asks her.

The next morning, over breakfast and amid small talk, Anne fades. She isn't quite catatonic but she certainly isn't in the moment with her husband. She's conscious, sitting upright, but is totally unresponsive. He dabs her face with cold water—nothing. As Georges rushes to get dressed and drive Anne to the hospital, she returns, oblivious to what had just unfolded.

She had suffered a stroke, and as Georges explains to the couple's daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), the operation to clear an obstruction of the carotid artery has failed. From now on, life will be different. Anne is paralyzed on the right side, and her deterioration will be slow and sure. Georges wears a brave face, but Anne's slide into incapacitation is ripping him apart just as slowly and just as surely.

Some context for this film on the road to the Academy Awards: Amour is the ninth foreign language nominee for Best Picture, and it's also nominated in the foreign language category, as well as for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress. Trintignant starred in Costa-Gavras' Z, which became the second foreign film to leap into the Best Picture race, in 1969. At 85, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest Best Actress nominee ever, and her career dates back to the 1959 classic Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

Director Michael Haneke, while long an art house favorite, was probably never in anyone's discussion of potential Best Director nominees. His films are too uncompromising. In fact, they may be the measuring stick for how much all-consuming sadness audiences can bear. But there's no denying his unique talent; his previous film, The White Ribbon, won the Palm D'Or at Cannes and the foreign language Oscar, and Amour will almost undoubtedly repeat that feat.

There are many ways to make an audience uncomfortable. Gore and violence work for some directors, heightened suspense for others. For Haneke, those would be shortcuts. Whether it's the dread of being held hostage by teenage psychopaths (Funny Games) or unflinching displays of sexual humiliation and paraphilia (The Piano Teacher), Haneke forces his audience to connect with the psychology of the characters and not to react to one stimulus or impulse the way a horror director might.

In that respect, Amour might be Haneke's most difficult work. It asks questions that don't have good answers: How long do you keep your soulmate alive once the soul is all they have left? Is it selfish to just want it all to end? Where is the line between mercy and murder?

To build Georges' solitary confinement with these thoughts, we never leave their apartment after the stroke. Georges is constantly surrounded by memories of a shared life, which make his frame of mind even weaker and more desperate. He receives few visitors, primarily just his daughter and a nurse. And Haneke, as is his wont, shoots terribly long scenes with one or maybe two edits. It's a more objective viewpoint than a parade of close-ups, and it subconsciously reminds you of the bubble Georges is trapped in.

Amour is hard to watch but it is never contrived or graphic. In fact, the banality of most of the scenes makes the film all the more suffocating. Making this more expressive or introducing minor conflicts along the way would undercut Haneke's point, which is so beautifully and almost ruthlessly made.

For two hours, you're forced to confront how you would handle such a terrible situation, and not one that involves escaping a faceless beast with a chainsaw. Because that's not really scary. Letting the love of your life suffer day in and day out, only human in form—that's scary.

Amour
Rated PG-13 · 127 minutes · 2012
Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/amour
Director: Michael Haneke
Producer: Margaret Ménégoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heideuschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Ménégoz, Uwe Schott and Michael Katz
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramón Agirre, Rita Blanco, Carole Franck, Dinara Droukarova, Laurent Capelluto and Jean-Michel Monroc

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What others are saying (13)

Boise Weekly This Thing Called Amour Now playing at The Flicks by George Prentice 02/13/2013
The Coast Halifax Amour Aging, love and heartbreak make a moving film by Molly Segal 02/14/2013
East Bay Express Amour A bitter, pitiless piece of work. by Kelly Vance 01/16/2013
10 more reviews...
Creative Loafing Charlotte Amour heads straight for the heart Rating: *** by Matt Brunson 02/08/2013
Colorado Springs Independent Amour: End game Michael Haneke's most tender film to date: a story about an active, sharp-minded elderly couple whose lives are upended when one of them falls ill. by Tricia Olszewski 02/13/2013
Chicago Reader Year in review: 2013 at the movies Year in review: J.R. Jones and Ben Sachs each pick their top ten. by J.R. Jones and Ben Sachs 12/24/2013
SF Weekly "Amour": The Letting Go by Nick Pinkerton 01/09/2013
Indy Week Michael Haneke's powerful, Oscar-nominated Amour Perhaps 30 minutes in, the simplest expression of love passed between Anne and Georges reduced me to a puddle of sobs. But I quickly composed myself for the rest of this extraordinary but calm, grave and unsentimental film. by David Fellerath 02/06/2013
Creative Loafing Tampa Amour: This is the end Michael Haneke’s wrenching French import offers a sobering view of life’s final days. by Joe Bardi 02/14/2013
Charleston City Paper Michael Haneke's Amour takes a hard, moving look at lasting love Early on in Michael Haneke's harrowing, moving Amour, 80-something-year-old Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) brings his wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), back home to their Paris apartment to a life that has changed forever. by Scott Renshaw 02/13/2013
NUVO Movie review: Amour Nominated for multiple Oscars, 'Amour' is a heart-wrenching and thoughtful portrayal of love in the midst of old age. Plus capsule reviews of 'Side Effects' and 'Top Hat.' by Ed Johnson-Ott 02/15/2013
Memphis Flyer The Last Dance Celebrated French film Amour is a clear-eyed depiction of marital love and mortality. by Chris Herrington 02/14/2013
Portland Mercury Death without Dignity Amour: technically impressive, beautifully acted, and deeply boring. by Marjorie Skinner 01/23/2013

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