The master of bleakness, depravity, and bitter irony Michael Haneke has at last made an unabashedly romantic love story, and his most upbeat movie to date. This doesn't seem the case in the early going, as first responders cover their noses from the stench of a decomposing body. Nor will the film's remorseless litany of decline, incapacity, despondency, and death leave you with an extra spring in your step. But before the tedious misery can drive you up the wall, a pigeon flies through a window and, with all the dumb innocence of an obvious symbol, refuses to fly away.
Two of the world's best actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, play Amour's octogenarian couple, so it's surprising that the characters aren't very interesting. Riva plays Anne, a former piano teacher, and Trintignant is her husband, Georges, also a retired musician. Except for in the opening scene in a concert hall, the two don't get out much, nor does the movie; it's shot almost entirely in the couple's apartment, the pair's solitude broken only by rare visits from their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), Anne's former student Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud), the concierge and his wife, who bring groceries, and a few others. Nobody seems very comfortable, and they don't stay very long.
Haneke, however, does, and meticulously depicts lives so uneventful that when Anne freezes practically in mid-sentence from a stroke, it takes a while for Georges, and the viewer, to notice anything amiss. As her condition deteriorates, Georges cares for her obsessively, firing the nurses, whose work he finds "unprofessional," massaging her pale legs, lugging her to the toilet, and putting off his promise to pull out a pillow and end it all.
Very romantic. Or maybe not. Is it a film about geriatric love or about the paralysis of bourgeois existence — a less pathological version of Haneke's The Piano Teacher (2001), in which Huppert, in the title role, plays the oppressed daughter of another burdensome woman? Or maybe of The Seventh Continent (1988), in which a normal middle-class family lock themselves in their home, systematically destroy everything they possess, and then kill themselves? In fact, many of Haneke's films depict the self-immolation of a stifling social unit. As such, Amour aspires to a romantic ideal of a different sort — the liberation of the individual from all social ties, including those of love.