The lead actors of Michael Haneke’s French-language Amour have passed on, one of them only last month. Jean-Louis Trintignant, who died on June 17, and Emmanuelle Riva, who departed in 2007, appeared in some of the GOATs of cinema. This list includes Amour, a love story from a director known for his formal rigour and chilly view of humanity.
With the exception of one sequence, Amour is set entirely with an apartment in Paris. Within the walls of this well-appointed house, Anne Laurent (Riva) has a stroke and then another. Georges Laurent (Trintignant) wheels her around, accompanies her to the toilet and reads to her.
Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is unable to accept Anne’s deterioration. Anne and Georges too frequently betray the frustration that is an inevitable result of a close one’s long-term illness. Through lengthy takes that let moments play out to the full and a judicious mix of close-ups and long shots, Haneke unsentimentally reveals the slow-moving horrors of old age.
Trintignant was 82 and Riva 85 when they headlined Haneke’s movie. The advanced age of the actors is reflected in their every shuffle, their careful movements, and their old-fashioned speech. There’s a sense of an entire generation of the French middle class in decline. Unable to step outside the apartment and increasingly tired of each other, this long-term couple can only hope that the end is near – but life is most cruel when it needs to be benign.
The performances by Trintignant and Riva are devastating in their precision and economy. Riva’s skill at portraying a steadily atrophying woman is astonishing. Trintignant’s dignity in the face of his greatest fear is conveyed just the way Haneke likes it – minimal in treatment and maximalist in impact.