A ways into Michael Haneke's much lauded film, we find Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) feeding his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva, nominated for an Oscar) in bed. He is doing this because the right side of her body is paralyzed, so much to the point that she can barely form a coherent syllable let alone open her mouth to eat. Georges is reduced to sort of shoving his baby-foodish concoction into the corner of her mouth and then wiping off what does not make it down. This happens three times. Feed. Wipe. Feed. Wipe. Feed. Wipe. Haneke's camera watches all this unfold without breaking away.
As this happened, I confess, tears welled in my eyes. It is the Amour of the title, and all any of us really want is to love someone so much that we would be willing to feed her/him baby-food and wipe away her/his baby-food dribbles or have that person do the same for us.
"Amour", which runs a shade over two hours, is akin to the third act of "Million Dollar Baby", but without the old-fashioned melodrama and as if it had been made by the director of "Funny Games" and "Caché" instead (which, of course, it was). It is unsparing, a cold, hard look straight into the face of the otherworld. In fact, the film's very first scene refuses to hide this fact, showing Anne's deceased body laying in her bed. The message is clear: death is coming. Death is coming for her. Death is coming for us all.
And so it does. An easygoing opening transitions jarringly but quietly into Anne's abnormal and unexplainable behavior followed by a surgery to cure her fatal ailments that proves unsuccessful and leaves her in a wheelchair, paralyzed. She makes a plea to husband: do not take her back to the hospital. Regardless of the severity of her condition, regardless of badly or quickly she spirals, she wants to remain in her home, and so she and we will. "Amour" remains inside those four expansive walls for the duration of the film, a sensation that does not necessarily register at first until, slowly, we begin to feel ourselves climbing those same walls right along with Georges.
For as his wife fades away into dementia, Georges finds himself in the position of caring for her, an endless and difficult task that he is not necessarily up for in his decidedly own brittle state. Nonetheless, he perseveres, never asking for pity, feeding and cleaning her, cleaning up after her, and so on.
But even he begins to collapse under the strain, taking issues with the nurses who come in good grace three times a week and even snapping at his daughter (Isabelle Huppert) who, living in a different city, feels out of the loop.
Occasionally the film is nearly impossible to watch, particularly because it works to remind us that what we see onscreen looms in each one of our futures and because the two performers are so sober in the rendering of this depressing truth. It builds to a coda that is, at first, warmly reassuring, a fairytale, the hope that merging with the infinite will be so simple, so lovely and that we will not be alone.
Ah, but grief never vanishes forever. It is merely a baton passed on to another.