Oscar has fallen hard for “Amour” — which was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture — the tragic yet inspiring depiction of the beauty and agony of loving another.

Amour

A
At the Michigan
Sony Pictures Classics


As an elderly French couple endures the hardships of old age, the years steal their spirits and what little time they have left together. Anne (Emmanuelle Rivera) suffers a debilitating stroke, and her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), devotes himself to tending her needs. But when a follow-up surgery unexpectedly paralyzes the right side of Anne’s body, the physical and emotional demands of Georges’s caretaker role escalate to a level that tests the limits of love and human capacity.

Writer-director Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”) offers a simple story that elicits the true meaning of supporting a spouse “in sickness and in health.” The film unfolds almost entirely within the walls of Anne and Georges’s apartment, a potentially mundane scenario, considering the basic plot. But such a consistent setting emphasizes the oppressive and substantial limitations of Anne’s condition, and, in these close quarters, Georges fights to help her live as close to a normal life as possible.

Haneke crafts powerful scenes that show, rather than tell. The strongest illustrations of Georges’s undying dedication, as Anne sinks into the depths of her suffering, are silent, yet they vehemently vocalize the couple’s heartbreaking mutual powerlessness: Georges struggles to lift Anne’s feeble frame in and out of bed and to hold her steady as he washes her hair; he must force her to eat as she obstinately refuses and he guides her frail efforts to walk. But Georges offers more than a shoulder for Anne; he is a soul to lean on, too.

When the two do speak, the genuine and dynamic dialogue vacillates between Anne’s gut-wrenching confessions about giving up on life and Georges’s light-hearted anecdotes and songs as he tries to conjure any shred of cheer he can.

Rivera and Trintignant charm and devastate at the same time as these fated characters, breathing life into this relatively straightforward narrative. Rivera’s helplessness and vulnerability seeps through the screen as a woman beaten and broken by her illness while Trintignant counters her delicate portrayal. He impressively walks the line between firm advocate and comforting companion.

A plain approach to filmmaking complements the simple story to accentuate the actors’ captivating performances. The docile cinematography (Darius Khondji) features copious long takes with infrequent camera mobility, and the inconspicuous editing (Nadine Muse and Monika Willi) implements minimal cutting and seamless transitions while the entire “soundtrack” boils down to seldom instances of the diegetic noise of a radio or piano.

Rather than adding unnecessary trappings, Haneke permits cinematic authenticity to bloom in “Amour” by stripping down the production and offering a minimalist style that less-than-subtly hints that the greatest gift we can give to the one we love is ourselves.

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