Getting old is really depressing. You move more slowly, your body breaks down and you become more dependent on your loved ones than you ever were. And I'm only 23 years old -- I can only imagine what it was like for 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva.
In Michael Haneke's fascinatingly dour Amour, Riva plays Anne, whose botched surgery of her blocked cartoid artery leaves her paralyzed on the right half of her body. Her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) takes care of her as best he can, though he shares Anna's pain, frustration and embarrassment as her body and her vitality atrophy with each passing day.
Amour is not so much a movie as it is a stylish fictional documentary. Director Michael Haneke is, more than anything else, patient. When Georges shuffles from one end of his house to the other in order to tend to his wife's cries of pain, there are no cuts to speed up the process. Haneke forces us, with merciless long takes, to endure the excruciating erosion of Anne's body right alongside Georges. We see him try to help her walk for minutes on end, and when she's no longer capable of that, we see him learning to put on her diaper with the necessary force -- a more violent act than we would all hope to imagine.
Riva, putting on a heartbreaking tour-de-force performance, is unquestionably the star of the film and is completely deserving of whatever accolades are thrown her way. From her first confused stare when Georges can first sense trouble, to the contortion of her partly-paralyzed body, to her slurred speech and mangled lip that come when her condition worsens, Riva never looks or feels like an actress. Maybe that is due to her not being known to American audiences, but her transformation into character seems so complete that popular facial recognition would not have mattered. Trintignant embodies a different sort of magnetism; he carries most of the movie's dialogue, and liking his sometimes-cold character doesn't always come easy. He brings out the compassion of Georges's character, a caring feeling that would be a given in our idealized view of life but that in brutal reality is anything but.
Because of a somewhat annoying opening scene that reveals the ending and creates cheap, unearned tension for the rest of the movie (a common aspect of the otherwise excellent Breaking Bad), we pretty much know Anne's fate from the beginning. But it doesn't make it any less painful to watch. Amour's the type of movie you respect when it's over, but you don't want to ever watch again because you feel miserable when it's over. And you know the real thing can only be worse. Grade: A-
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.