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The film begins with a body—an elderly woman dressed in flowers on her bed. Then the plot goes back in time to offer an explanation. Georges and Anne are in their 80s. They attend classical music concerts, travel freely by public transit, and enjoy meals and discussions together in their large Parisian apartment. They live a comfortable life of well-to-do retirees, fully engaged in the arts and fully enjoying the amour (love) they share for each other. Then one morning, Anne blanks out completely. Georges holds her head in his hands and pleads with her to remember what happened. But he knows, and the audience knows, it is a stroke—their blissful life will not return.

With long, long shots of faded interiors, artsy digressions, and a sparse soundtrack, director Michael Haneke pushes the viewer’s patience to ask even more pointedly how far love can be stretched. French screen legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are devastating in the lead roles. Isabelle Huppert ably plays their self-involved daughter, Eva, who breezes in and out with ineffective offers of help.

It would be very surprising if the film did not win Best Foreign Feature at the upcoming Oscars. Riva is a very strong contender for Best Actress, as is Haneke for Best Director. And Amour’s Best Picture nomination? Maybe the film could win the big prize if Lincoln, Argo, and Silver Linings Playbook split the vote.

Amour is at once very beautiful and very, very difficult to watch, especially if you have had to care for a sick family member. But it is certainly a film that will generate much discussion and debate about love’s requirements. While it’s rated PG-13, emotionally this is definitely an “R” film. (Sony)

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