Who wants to see a movie about an elderly couple confronting illness and death? It's a tough sell, even though "Amour" is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best actress (much deserved) for the 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva. But here's the main reason to see it: "Amour" isn't just a great movie, it's a movie that may actually do you some good.
After all, what's on screen in "Amour" is what's in store for many of us. Georges Laurent (a moving Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife, Anne (Riva), are retired music teachers in their 80s, still active and engaged with the world. One morning during breakfast, however, Anne goes into a nonresponsive trance. "Is this a prank?" Georges asks after she reawakens. She has had a stroke, and it won't be her last.
Thus begins the Laurents' emigration, as Susan Sontag famously put it, "to the kingdom of the ill." It's a rapid journey. Half-paralyzed and unable to use a toilet without help, Anne almost immediately asks for death -- first in subtle code, later with actions. Visitors dwindle; the Laurents' world gradually shrinks. Their grown daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), weeps in her faraway kingdom, but so what? "Your concern," Georges tells her, "is of no use to me."
All this isn't as depressing as it might sound. In fact, the word that comes to mind is helpful. Writer-director Michael Haneke ("The White Ribbon") takes a detached, God's-eye view of events (Trintignant and Riva provide the humanity) that isn't concerned with sentiment or morality. Politics, despite the glimmer of a right-to-die subtext, has even less meaning. The subject here is simply one person's death, and "Amour" poses a question worth asking: How will you handle yours?
PLOT An elderly man cares for his wife after she suffers a debilitating stroke.
RATING PG-13 (mild language, brief nudity, adult themes)
CAST Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva
BOTTOM LINE Riva deserves her Oscar nod, but it's Trintignant, another French legend, who'll haunt you long after this movie ends. In French with English subtitles.