A striking look at a long-term relationship, this film is an antidote to those who are tired of shamelessly sweet depictions of retirees, such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Hope Springs. Meanwhile, it's perhaps the most emotionally resonant film yet from Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, who specialises in crisp explorations of the darker side of humanity (see The White Ribbon or Cache). By contrast, this Cannes-winner is a clear-eyed drama about ageing that completely avoids manipulation and schmaltz, but is still deeply moving.
The story takes place largely in one apartment in Paris, where Georges and Anne (Trintignant and Riva) are enjoying their golden years. Then one night, after attending a concert by one of Anne's former piano students, she has a small seizure that's just the first step in a slide into partial paralysis. Georges is happy to care for her, and they still have moments of happiness. Even when their daughter (Huppert) barges in and tries to meddle with their decisions about the future. As Anne's condition deteriorates, Georges gets help from his neighbours (Agirre and Blanco) and a nurse (Franck). But he never feels that taking care of Anne is a burden.
Unsurprisingly, Haneke tells this story without even a hint of sentimentality. Even though the premise lends itself to big emotions, he keeps everything quietly authentic. The flat itself almost becomes a character in the story, with each outsider's arrival as a kind of invasion. Scenes are captured in his usual long, unbroken takes with no background music to tell us how to feel. Instead, we experience the situations along with Georges, and we understand why he takes such a practical approach, refusing to overdramatise even the most emotive events.
The story plays out with a series of surprising plot turns, but we always know where it's heading. Still, Haneke can shock us with moments of darkness and light, including several scenes that are gorgeously tender. A few more obviously symbolic moments are more difficult to engage with, but every scene is beautifully played by Trintignant, who carries us along on Georges' journey. Meanwhile, Riva and Huppert expertly capture telling details in their characters as well. But it's Haneke's mastery of cinema that packs each scene with such haunting power.
Run time: 127 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 20th September 2012
Production compaines: Wega Film, Les Films du Losange, X-Filme Creative Pool
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Michael Haneke
Producer: Margaret Menegoz
Screenwriter: Michael Haneke
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva as Anne, Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, Isabelle Huppert as Eva, William Shimell as Geoff, Rita Blanco as Concierge, Dinara Drukarova as Nurse #2, Carole Franck as Nurse #1, Laurent Capelluto as Police Officer #1, Damien Jouillerot as Paramedic #1, Walid Afkir as Paramedic #2