Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.

A superb account of ageing and illness from Michael Haneke.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: Michael Haneke’s new film Amour continues the German auteur’s decades-long fascination with the idea of violation and of how everyone is vulnerable to forced surrender, provided there’s someone cruel enough to demand it. (And there’s always someone cruel enough to do that in a Haneke movie). A crucial point of difference is that, rather than conjure up a man-made catastrophe for an unsuspecting family unit, as he has done so effectively within thrillers like Hidden and Funny Games, here the formidable opponent is the ageing process and its insidious assault on a beloved spouse’s mind and body.

The serious German turns his skills for astute observation into a solemn portrait of the humiliating demise of a proud music teacher, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). As she succumbs to a tumour and an ongoing series of strokes, her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tries valiantly to preserve her dignity as best he can.

We know from the outset what Anne’s fate is; Haneke flips the narrative to have us witness a team of emergency workers take to the door of a locked apartment with a battering ram, handkerchiefs at their nostrils, to discover Anne’s corpse. She lies serenely, dressed with flower petals and funeral suit, in the taped-shut master bedroom. What follows is an unsentimental look back at how this intriguing scene came to be, as Anne and Georges navigate what will become the final months of Anne's life.

Save for a night out at the theatre to take in a former pupil’s concert, the action takes place entirely within the confines of the apartment once Anne suffers a blackout over breakfast and, after a failed operation, makes Georges vow she’ll never see another hospital.

They may rib each other like the lifelong confidantes they are, but there is a proud defiance to Anne’s reaction to her changing circumstances, and a shy deference in Georges’ adjustment to his new role as homemaker and carer. His annoyance at her interrupting their lunch with the insistence that he fetch her the photo albums mellows ever so gradually as he watches her survey the evidence of their union. 'It’s beautiful, life. So long... A long life." The honesty of this appraisal – and many other consequences of her descent – is all the more affecting for Haneke’s observational style (lengthy shots, no score).

Isabelle Huppert has a small part as the couple’s absentee daughter, a flinty musician living abroad, who confesses to her father that she’s bothered by her philandering husband’s latest affair only because others know about it. When on a rare visit, she panics about her mother’s rapid demise, Georges doesn’t suffer her patronising interrogations gladly. His chiding leaves her with no doubt about what she can do with her implications that he’s not seeking the best treatment for his ailing wife.

As the film catches up to its beginnings, Haneke maintains a degree of ambiguity about the outcomes. He might get a bad rap for his apparent obsession with human suffering, but this investigation of it from dual-perspectives couldn’t be made by anyone else.

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2 hours 6 min