Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. In French with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, January 18, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
Because we grow up with them, movie stars sometimes seem to be our friends. Because we age, even as they age, they often appear to be our relatives. And because we frequently remain faithful to them till death do us part, they can resemble our spouses as well.
In Amour, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or–winning feature (which also collected five Oscar nominations), the director exploits these simple truths for all they’re worth. Essentially a chamber drama about a couple of cosmopolitan music teachers in their 80s whose lives change forever when one of them suffers a debilitating stroke, the casting reminds us of the passage of time with rabbit-punch directness. No cinephile can ignore the fact that Anne is played by Emmanuelle Riva, the star of Alain Resnais’s 1959 masterpiece, Hiroshima, mon amour, just as he or she must realize that the role of Georges is assumed by Jean-Louis Trintignant, perhaps the most iconic figure in late-’60s political cinema.
The message is obvious: if they can expire, so can we.
The brilliant casting doesn’t stop there, however. The couple’s daughter is played by Isabelle Huppert, while her unfaithful husband is interpreted by William Shimell, the opera singer who made such a good impression in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. Art, culture, family, love: everything hovers on the brink of the abyss.
Of course, it could be argued that all of Haneke’s work is pitched in the same key of danger. Watching a couple of old people become increasingly hermetic and self-protective as their options relentlessly shrink might seem less dramatic than, say, a pack of random psychopaths invading your home, but, basically, we’re still dealing with the same form of “invincible defeat”.
Haneke has always explored our most basic fears. In Amour, they become more basic than ever.