One day retired music teachers Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are sitting down to a meal in their Parisian apartment when Anne suddenly goes into a blank-eyed trance. Georges thinks she’s joking at first, unaware that life as he and Anne knew it had just changed forever. Amour could have been title Morte, as writer-director Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The White Ribbon) takes an unflinching and often uncomfortable look at how a married couple experiences the last stage in life. But it’s the depiction of love that Georges and Anne rely on to get them through it that makes Amour earn its slew of Oscar nominations
We briefly see a healthy Anne before her first major stroke. The octogenarian couple’s daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is in no position to take care of them, so Georges becomes primary caregiver until seeking in-home assistance. Anne’s condition is tragic in itself, but the first overwhelming heartbreak comes when Anne is left helpless in the care of a callous nurse. The panic that Riva manages to convey through her character’s paralysis likely clinched her Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, if the prior stages of her debilitation weren’t convincing enough.
Haneke has created a gift for both audiences and the two legendary actors cast in the lead roles. Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) is the oldest nominee in the Academy’s history thanks to the role the director created for her, but without the extraordinary compassion Trintignant (… And God Created Women) conveys, it’s hard to imagine Haneke’s characteristic bleak vision penetrating the Oscars the way it has. Amour has struck a chord with awards voters because it’s a depiction of universal experience that everyone can relate to, or one day will. Haneke’s film prepares the way. MATT KELEMEN