Amour is the first foreign-language film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination in six years, and it admirably showcases the deep and tender love forged by decades of marriage and a spouse’s impending demise. Yet for all the love Amour’s aged couple shares, the world writer and director Michael Haneke creates for them is a godless, nihilistic, soul-draining void.
Retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) live quiet, contented lives in their Paris apartment, when one morning over breakfast, Anne suffers a stroke. A surgical procedure to fix an artery results in paralysis through most of her body, save her head and one arm.
Faced with these new circumstances, Georges tenderly takes care of his wife’s needs. (Some partial nudity in a bathing scene and some brief coarse language account for the film’s PG-13 rating.) Even so, Anne becomes increasingly frustrated with her debilitated condition, in an exceptional, painfully real performance by Riva, telling her husband at one point that she does not want to continue living.
Despite the deep feelings expressed between them, Haneke frames their story in quiet, sterile, almost despairing tones. For starters, the film has no musical score, save for the classical music Georges and Anne occasionally listen to. Viewers nauseated by the recent shaky cam craze may be happy to know that Haneke goes in the polar opposite direction, setting a fixed camera on a scene for abnormally long stretches, thereby creating an almost lifeless effect along with straining the meaning of the term “motion picture.”
For those averse to spoilers, stop reading now. Normally a review would not describe a climactic event, but readers interested in seeing Amour should be forewarned that, in a poignant moment when Anne can barely communicate that she’s in pain, Georges smothers her with a pillow in a drawn-out scene. Would that Haneke had done the same to his screenplay before it saw the light of day.