From the opening frames of Austrian director Michael Haneke's Amour we know that there is no happy ending to this story of Georges and Anne, a devoted couple in their eighties – proud, cultured, independent – whose lives are suddenly and irrevocably altered when Anne has a series of strokes that leave one side of her body paralyzed.
George embarks upon the next stage in their lives without hesitation – for is this not love? and was the vow not "For better or worse"? – taking on the burden of Anne's physical and emotional care without complaint. Their daughter Eva (played by Isabelle Huppert) realizes that this course of action is not sustainable, but she appears to be powerless to change her father's mind.
It is to Haneke's credit that he does not make a melodrama of these circumstances. We watch as what seems simply an inexorable progression of events plays out, the easy pattern of Georges and Anne's life together – simple meals made and shared in their Paris apartment; attendance at classical music concerts; the many casual intimacies of a decades-long relationship – gradually replaced by a series of incremental humilations and physical ordeals. Georges struggles to help Anne from bed into her wheelchair; helps her on and off the toilet; patiently tries to spoon-feed her. With pain and helplessness in his eyes Georges watches as Anne endures a sitz-bath in their shower, a home-care nurse sudsing and rinsing, moving Anne's unresponsive limbs as if she were little more than a mannequin. We see her dignity and independence – and his – slowly leaking away.
The performances (Jean-Louis Trintignant, A Man and a Woman, as Georges, and Emmanuelle Riva, Hiroshima mon amour, as Anne) are remarkable and restrained: so much is communicated in their eyes, and in brief flickers of emotion transmitted without words. The scene where Anne stuggles to express herself to Eva, who hovers anxiously at bedside, trying to extract some meaning from the fragments of garbled sound, is particularly poignant.
The final VIFF screening of Amour took place on the last day of this year's festival, as posters and signage were coming down from the walls of the Empire multiplex on Granville. Watch for a wider release of this thoughtful and thought-provoking film, whose trailer can be seen here.