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About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By Peter Richter


Emmanuella Riva in a scene from 'Amour'

Anne is a corpse. Her face is framed by flowers. The windows are open and a saintly glow swallows the scene. Director Michael Hankeke (The White Ribbon, Hidden)opens Amour at the end Anne's life. This serves to dilute death, dilute the outcome of the story and lets us focuses on an acute journey about love - a love conceptualized as this master filmmaker could.
Anne (Emmanuella Riva) is a former music teacher whose health is deteriorating. Emmanuella Riva's performance conjures up memories of Ellen Burstyn Oscar's nominated performance as Sara Goldfarb in A Requiem for a Dream. Her aches are your aches as the nurse gives her a sponge bath. Her frustration is yours as she struggles to speak to her daughter.

Anne's husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a stoic man, and he, too, is a former musician. He and Anne are in their eighties. The couple perform a seemingly choreographed breakfast routine. One morning something different happens. While breaking the top of a pouched egg, George shares a story from his childhood. This story expose a soft, insecure side of George which Anne has never seen. In this story George cries in front of a man. Anne had never known this side of him. She asks, "You're not going to ruin your image in old age, are you?" He says with tongue-in-cheek, "What image?" There are times when their relationship is thorny, and times when it is coy but each scene is over shadowed by Haneke.

Haneke, a la 1997's Funny Games, overtly addresses the forth wall. However, in Amour, it is more of a flirt. In the film's second scene an audience is being seated to view a performance by pianist Alexandre. Alexandre is not pictured, in fact they audience looks at us. They fuss with their scarves, adjust their coats, and cross their legs. A voice sounds to alert the audience turn off their cell phones. In the theater where I screened this film my neighbors powered down their iPhones.

In another scene, Anne explains to George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) that there will be no more doctors or hospitals. George rationalizes the situation and resists. Anne responds, "Forgive me. What way is this to live?" She is inflexible yet kind. Like Ellen Burstyn, do not be surprised to see Riva receive an Oscar nomination for her performance in Amour. The linchpin of this film about mucisians is music, yet there is no score. Scenes end without warning and the stationary camera leaves some conversations off screen. In one scene, this technique leaves us paralyzed as Alexandre waits in the living room while George and Anne discuss something in the other room. Each moment is sculpted to perfection. The dialogue is distilled. Each line is pure and penetrating. These elements sometimes the audience us feel like as if this film is a documentary. Yet Haneke constantly reminds us that we are the audience and this, as he intends, clashes with expectation. Amour could have been created without a supporting cast as some of the secondary characters only serve to muddle the story. Anne's daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) visits a few times. She believes that it is best for her Mother to be in hospice care. She argues with George, she cries, but what good does this do for the film? George is resigned to the situation and the promise which he made to Anne earlier in the film.
Eva and her ex-husband Geoff (William Shimell) visit. His presence is irrelevant to the story. These scenes reenforce the point that George will care for Anne within their home, but this is something we knew all along.

At times Amour feels lengthy. But overall, Hankeke's interpretation of love wraps itself in the comfortable and uncomfortable moments. It embraces its elderly lovers and depicts the dismal depths to which love can take us.

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