Amour ***½ (PG-13) This French drama about an elderly couple dealing with the wife’s end-stage deterioration has been earning acclaim around the globe for its stunning performances (John-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva), and sensitive treatment of an emotionally draining ordeal for the players and viewers by director Michael Haneke. The casting of these octogenarian spouses is not only effective cinematically, but interesting for pairing Trintignant, a major figure in European films for decades, with an actress with a much lower profile outside the EEC. Kudos to the Decider(s), since his turn caps a stellar career in fine style, and she garnered one of the film’s five Oscar nominations. (Amour was not screened or released locally in time for consideration in the St. Louis Film Critics’ 2012 voting.)
In the early going and through flashbacks we see what a loving, cultured couple they were, with classical music at the core of their lives. That makes her descent into dementia seem like a particularly poignant loss to them, and to everyone they touched. As Trintignant struggles to tend to her needs, keeping her at home, rather than in the hands of strangers in strange environs, we feel both the loving devotion and the agonizing toll of the caretaking role he accepts.
The script’s unadorned view of their course should spark debates about the legitimacy of physician-assisted suicide, and inspire many to contemplate such possible futures, and make the tough decisions about their own living wills or other end-of-life directives. Amour is at once a celebration of, and cautionary tale about, the love underlying the lifetime commitments of those marriage vows. This exceptional film may not fit anyone’s definition of entertaining, but it undeniably nourishes our hearts and minds. (2/1/13)