Art & Culture


Given that there is nothing I could possibly improve on in this film, and that it is also a film which everyone over 50, plus everyone with old parents, plus everyone who will get old, should see, I'm going to break the habit of a lifetime and give a new film a perfect score. Yes, it's that extraordinary. Think of it as the arthouse Skyfall. It has to be seen.
Austrian director Michael Haneke is at the height of his powers as he reaches the age of 70.Not old enough to be faced with the situation of these characters, but having experienced people who have, and knowing that it is not that far away for him.
The characters in question are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a couple of retired musicians in their 80s, living comfortably in a Paris apartment. At the beginning of the film, we see them at a concert, where they have gone to watch one of Anne's pupils playing. Everything seems fine, until a small incident takes place shortly afterwards which is the precursor to the rest of the film. Georges and Anne are sitting at breakfast one morning, when in mid-conversation, she freezes. She doesn't hear what he says, is not aware of his existence, or even her own, and has no recollection of the lapse when she comes to. Clearly this bright, attractive and well-balanced woman has entered a new stage of life, which will in due course lead to death.
And that's the film. We watch Georges defiantly and bravely acting as her primary carer, because she has asked him not to let her go back to hospital. He feeds her, washes her, talks to her and loves her (thus the title), watching as the woman he has spent his adult life with unravels before his eyes, unable to do more than try to make the process less painful and humiliating. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) appears at intervals, telling him there must be something else that can be done, but without any clear idea of what. And gradually, he closes off the rest of the world in his single-minded absorption with the job that life has allotted him.
Does sound something less than a barrel of laughs? I should certainly hope so, because it is one of the most profound pieces of film ever made. But on the other hand, it is not intentionally depressing. There is no solemn music to accompany Anne's descent into oblivion. No heartstrings are tugged. Haneke simply makes us observe the process inch by inch, yet with such clarity, beauty and truthfulness that it is never less than compelling. I can imagine people saying that it's not the kind of film to go to for a date movie, and they'd be right. It's a film to go and see with someone you love, and then talk to each other afterwards about what you would like, and what you may feel able to manage when the time comes.
It's a work of sheer brilliance, and you can't ask for more than that. Oh yes, and Oscars please for Trintignant and Riva.

Phil Raby

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