Amour -- Oscar nominee for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film -- is a must-see film that not everyone must see, at least right now.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's meticulous, superbly crafted portrait of an elderly couple facing the end of life chronicles a chapter that many viewers either have experienced or are confronting themselves. They don't need to be reminded of the unconsoling truths Haneke brings to light -- about illness, decline, devotion and grief. Indeed, the ideal audience for Amour might be those lucky, head-over-heels young couples on the cusp of saying "Till death do us part." Here's what you're in for, kids.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, retired music teachers who lead a life of understated refinement in Paris. They're a "nation of two," as a poet once described marriage, secure in the companionable rhythms they've composed over decades of shared intimacy and tastes.
Soon thereafter, things begin to fall apart, as a series of small slips launch the couple on an agonizing downward slide. Although their daughter (played by Isabelle Huppert) occasionally visits, it's clear that the couple has built their own tender, civilized bulwark that serves not only as a source of strength against the outside world, but one of loneliness and, eventually, quiet desperation.
One of the most painful things about Amour isn't just watching vibrancy give way to senescence -- complete with diapers, feedings and wordless moanings. It's how, for all their culture and cosmopolitanism, Georges and Anne have so few social resources to draw on, in the form of family or friends.
This world view isn't terribly surprising coming from Haneke, whose past films include Funny Games and The White Ribbon. He's a notoriously gimlet-eyed filmmaker whose austere style and facile pessimism often have been mistaken for philosophical depth.
But with Amour, Haneke seems to be making a genuine step toward humanism, tempering his usual chilly sense of superiority with discretion and empathy. Haneke has made a film that is beautiful and horrifying, moving and confounding, profoundly moral and deeply troubling -- in other words, a movie that is utterly worthy of its all-encompassing title.
In French with English subtitles.
Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens Feb. 1 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth