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Movie review: Amour

This foreign film is at once poignant and hard to watch.

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

February 16, 2013 | 1:00 p.m. CST

Amour is not for the faint of heart.

Do not watch this movie in search of lighthearted entertainment, if you’re in danger of becoming depressed or if you’ve just eaten. Amour is an amazing film, but it will make you squeamish.

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The film tops Oscar watch lists with nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Foreign Language Film (it's in French with English subtitles). The Academy’s love affair with Amour is obvious.

Amour is the story of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a posh 80-something pair of music teachers living in Paris. Each is the other’s whole world. When Anne has a stroke, both worlds start to crumble.

Director Michael Haneke follows the couple’s deterioration with a twist — the action begins in the present and rewinds to the past. The entire movie is a flashback, which shrouds it in Hitchcock-esque mystery.

It’s hard to watch every step of Anne’s death-by-old-age and every attempt of Georges’ to care for her. Haneke is meticulous. Scenes are slow, detailed and ominous because you know things will only get worse.

The amazing part is how the plot is presented. Where it’s nauseating, it’s also sweet. Where it’s jarring, it’s also poignant. Where you want to close your eyes, you also want to lean in and look closer.

Haneke’s screenplay is the film’s crown jewel, but within that framework the actors shine. Trintignant and Riva are brilliant; Riva’s performance is up for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Even the couple’s self-centered middle-aged daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert, has depth, though she appears onscreen for maybe one-quarter of the film.

Amour is haunting because it is the future — every person in the audience will one day go the same way as the film’s main characters. Age, alas, is inescapable.

Watching someone die for 127 minutes is not pleasant. It isn’t fun to see, but Haneke’s screenplay and Trintignant's and Riva's performances make Amour worth the discomfort.

Vox Rating: V V V V V

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