Amour is one of the most painful experiences I've had at the movies. That is not to say that I don't recommend it. As much as I love a good popcorn flick, I don't believe that the movies exist solely to entertain. Film is an art form that does many things, one of which is to stir our emotions. Amour is emotionally draining, and though I try to find some sort of uplift or catharsis, I'm not sure there is one.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are an elderly Parisian couple. It is never very clear what Georges did for a living, but Anne was a successful pianist. One morning at breakfast Anne suddenly stops eating and stares into space, and Georges is unable to snap her out of it. A few minutes later she goes back to breakfast as if nothing happened. A trip to the doctor reveals a blood clot, and after surgery Anne returns home, but mostly confined to a wheelchair. She begins a slow, inevitable decline, and Georges does his best to care for his ailing wife.
After an opening scene at a concert, the entire movie takes place in their Paris apartment. For Georges the whole world has been reduced to these few rooms once Anne begins to slip away. For long stretches they are the only characters on screen, save for an occasional visit by their concerned daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) and several others, including a former student of Anne's (Alexandre Tharaud) whose kind visit only serves to remind Anne of what she has lost.
Director Michael Haneke has never been a showy director, usually choosing static shots over a constantly moving camera. Amour is no exception, as he keeps his camera stationary through most of the film. By keeping the theatrically flourishes down to a minimum, he simply makes the audiences witnesses to the life of these two people, a life that by the end has no witnesses, as Georges sends away the nurses and chooses to take care of Anne by himself. The leads are so good at making Georges and Anne real that it is hard for the audience not to empathize and to see people from their own lives: a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, or a neighbor. Because Georges and Anne's story is not unique; more than anything this is a film about the inevitability of death and the decline that comes with it, something that we can all understand.
There is no score, only the music that Georges and Anne listen to in the apartment. The storytelling is meticulously controlled and the pacing so deliberate that when surprises in the story come they are so jarring as to be almost painful. There is nothing showy in what Haneke or the actors do, yet there is nothing about the filmmaking that is not masterful. It is a simple story, beautiful and sad. I'm glad I experienced it, but I doubt I'll want to see it again.