Directed by: Michael Haneke
This will be a difficult film to watch for anyone who has aging, or terminally ill parents. The (French, subtitled) film is both tragic and uplifting at the same time delivering not only a compelling, vision of what life looks like at the end of the road, but one that is laced with a beautifully resounding message of what profoundly true love looks like.
The story revolves around husband and wife octogenarians Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva), who are retired music teachers living in France. Their daughter Eva (Huppert) lives abroad with her family, and — while she loves her parents — is more than just a bit disconnected from their day-to-day lives. Shortly after attending a concert by one of her prize former students, Anne suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves her right side paralyzed. Upon returning from the hospital, Ann (who has never been a fan of doctors) extracts a promise from Georges to never bring her back to one. This leaves Georges with only one option, to care for her at home as her condition slowly deteriorates.
As her condition worsens, Anne doesn’t want people seeing her in her current condition and Georges struggles to do his best to comply with his wife. Ultimately, the couple’s abiding love for each other is put to the test as her condition plays itself out. We see Georges feeding, dressing, changing, and bathing her as she becomes more and more helpless. Eventually he brings in nursing care to assist him, but still, the bulk of her care falls on him.
In an era where the old, sick, and frail are carted off to nursing homes and left to die while “cared for” by institutional helpers, it is a glowing tribute to a elder generation that — when something was broken — fixed it rather than threw it out. This is a powerfully engrossing film that plumbs the depths of both love and despair as it plays out for us the final days of this loving couple’s life. To be sure, it isn’t easy to watch, especially as Anne’s end approaches. Further, the director’s cinematic film style is unusual (adding to the intensity of each scene) as he tends towards long static shots of the actors with very little camera movements, cuts, or matching action during conversations. Also, there is no musical score of which to speak, other than music that is being played on-screen either “live” or on CD.
A little bit off the beaten path, but still a very compelling and highly watchable film.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.