In art-house films like "Funny Games" and "Caché," the Austrian director Michael Haneke established his own special niche of highbrow creep-out, imparting an air of dislocating disturbance to everything his camera peers at. "Amour," his brilliant and haunting new movie, is disturbing as well, yet it’s also deeply humane in a way that the earlier Haneke films were not.
The legendary French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva play George and Anne, a French couple in their still-vital early 80s. The movie is a clear-eyed and tender, at times almost voyeuristically intimate look at what happens when Anne, out of the blue, begins to slip away, both mentally and physically.
For most of the film, we’re inside the couple’s vast, slightly decrepit old Paris apartment, with occasional visits from nurses, a former student and their financier daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert. Haneke films his actors in meticulously framed master shots, creating a kind of hushed suspense. He infuses everyday dread with a touch of the uncanny.
Is Amour hard to watch? At times it is, yet it's also transfixing and extraordinarily touching. It’s at once a love story, a horror film and probably the greatest movie about old age ever made. Jean-Louis Trintignant now looks like the aging Picasso with more hair, and if his manner is sophisticated, his eyes gleam with hints of a knowledge too despairing to share. And Emanuelle Riva, celebrated 54 years ago in Hiroshima Mon Amour and still very beautiful, gives a performance that is fearless, physically audacious, and heartbreaking.
When George tries to give Anne water, and Riva lets it roll angrily down her chin, the look on her face makes that act a violent denial of life and also, in its fury, a pure expression of it. In Amour, these two actors show us what love is, what it really looks like and what it may, at its most secret moments, demand.