Haneke, the austere Austrian who brought us the perverse sexual psychodrama “The Piano Teacher,” the enigmatic jigsaw puzzle “Caché” and the fascism parable “The White Ribbon,” has now trained his impeccably refined cinematic talents on the grand subjects of love and death.
In “Amour,” Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva—the last thespians standing from the French New Wave—play Georges and Anne, an eighty-something couple whose comfortable life of quiet evenings at home and the occasional classical concert is interrupted when Anne suffers an obstruction of the carotid artery and is paralyzed on her right side following an unsuccessful surgery and a stroke. As her condition worsens, Haneke’s camera hovers close, sparing no details of the sad and inevitable decline of the human body in old age.
There is much to admire in “Amour,” not least of which is the compositional beauty that attends each meticulously framed shot. In one brief vignette aboard a city bus (one of the few scenes not set inside Georges and Anne’s Parisian apartment), the elderly couple huddles close in their seat—the depth of their lifetime of love wordlessly apparent amidst a throng of youthful, solitary passengers.
Yet like the Ingmar Bergman of “Cries and Whispers,” Haneke offers viewers precious little respite in the face of doom and gloom. The film would be unthinkable without actors as talented as Trintignant and particularly Riva, who exudes a quiet dignity even as Anne begins to ramble incoherently and loses control of her bodily functions in the latter stages of her mental and physical deterioration.
The one merciful narrative concession comes when a pigeon—a bird species that mates for life—flutters through the window and pecks around the apartment, perhaps symbolic of Anne’s soul trapped in her bedridden body and unable to fly. Though a tad heavy-handed, it’s a glimmer of transcendent hope in a film that leaves one feeling as cold and empty as the bottom of a freshly dug grave.
“Amour” is currently playing at the Roxy in Burlington.