Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is known for making intense, difficult movies with a bleak view of humanity, so at first it’s a little surprising that his latest film is titled Amour (French for “love”) and deals with the enduring bond between a husband and wife in their twilight years. Nominated for five Oscars (after winning the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last May), Amour is in some ways more humane and compassionate than Haneke’s previous work, but it retains the cold, detached style of his more provocative films, framing its simple domestic story almost like a clinical study of human frailty.
Veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play retired Parisian couple Georges and Anne, whose tranquil life is thrown into chaos when Anne suffers a debilitating stroke. As her condition steadily deteriorates, Georges remains determined to care for her himself, and the title emotion comes through as he graciously looks past the indignities of her condition to give her what he believes is the best possible care as, in his words, things get worse and then end.
While Trintignant and Riva (who’s nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars) give deeply felt performances, Haneke’s deliberate, aloof filmmaking style keeps the characters at arm’s length, and the banality of the story, however universal its themes, makes it hard to engage with on an emotional level. For Haneke, love is just another curious human trait to be dissected and used as a tool to disquiet his audience.