Movie review: Amour

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From the February 14, 2013 edition

Michael Haneke’s “Amour” — as the title suggests — is a love story, but it’s also a death story. It exists primarily in the intersection between the two.

It’s an understated film of brutal and raw emotion — from a director who knows a thing or two about punching an audience in the gut. It’s small, and it’s restrained, and it’s well worthy of the accolades it’s received, including an unexpected run of major Oscar nominations.

What it’s not is a feel-good date movie, so don’t make that mistake this Valentine’s Day weekend.

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are living out their retirement in a Parisian apartment. Both former music teachers, their days are filled with the minor pleasures of shared company. Even in their eighties, their love is evident.

But when Anne suffers a mild attack at the breakfast table, it begins a spiral of deteriorating health that tests their bond.

I have been enthralled with Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke since the terrifying 1997 home-invasion thriller “Funny Games” (streaming on Netflix now). His last film, “The White Ribbon,” was deserving of the Oscar in a crowded foreign language field in 2010.

Where “Amour” will ultimately fit in his canon is a mystery. Its tenderness is out of step with the clinical detachment of much of his other work, but his past works definitely shape the smothering tension that arises in that Paris apartment.

The leads are beyond superb. Trintignant embodies a weary gentleness as the weight of caring for his ailing wife weighs on him. And Riva — the oldest Best Actress nominee ever — is stunningly emotive, even as the rapidly declining physical abilities of her character shrink her palette.

The end-of-life issues presented here will also be difficult for some audiences. Be warned … as the opening scene reveals, there is no happy ending.

“Amour” is also a film that we in critical circles like to describe as “deliberately paced” — which means that you shouldn’t expect much action. If you’re looking for dramatic sweeps and twists, there are few, but its slow boil delivers the impact that will stick with you long after the film.