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The feelgood movie of the decade? In a way, it is. It is about love, and how it holds up against old age and disease. About the ever-true notion that ageing is not for cowards. About the need and the ability to trust each other, even it that means standing up against all those nice guys with all their bloody good intentions, whom you just want to sod off.

Jean-Louis Trintingant and Emanuelle Riva have the power to convey all that, as an old couple, together for 60 years, who have reached the final stage of their lives. It is her health that caves in first, but it could just as well have been the other way around. Maybe the film would have been exactly the same, maybe it would have played out completely differently? That’s one of the interesting questions Michael Haneke raises, while only cursorily touching on them. He asks her what she expects him to do, what she would have done had she been in his shoes. And by asking her he is asking us, the audience: who has the strength of not only making promises when talking about sickness and care, but of sticking to those promises, even when you think you cannot bear the burden and the pressure anymore. Whether to take the relatively easy way out and commit your sick partner into the hands of the health system, or to see it through to the end. What do you do if there is no more hope, if all you see is suffering, when the only clear perspective is  death, but not an easy one?

As a film, this is played very straightforwardly. The focus is on the two main characters, plus the occasional appearance of their daughter (Isabel Huppert). In a certain way, the film shows exactly what you expect it to show. This may also have been the reason why I have left it on the shelf for a while. I did not expect many cinematic surprises to distract me from the bleakness of the story. The only hope was to expect brilliant performances from the two lead actors. Strangely, this is exactly what the film features, but because of the stunning brilliance of those two amazing actors, they do not provide the comfort of “performance”. They are as utterly credible as the characters they play as I have ever seen in a film. They play themselves into the league of the best Ingmar Bergman performances, and  with their becoming the characters elevate this chamber piece about ageing and dying to a level of sober heartbreaking honesty such as is very hard to be found in theatre or cinema.

Michael Haneke has now established an oeuvre that is truly astonishing, both in quality and in range. To have “Amour” as a follow-up to the more lavishly decorated “White Ribbon” shows that there is hardly any story this genius cannot tell.

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