Michael Haneke's Oscar-nominated Amour has been universally greeted with adoration and applause for bringing the difficult, sensitive subject of end-of-life care to a broad audience, subtitles and all. I can't join the chorus.
In his signature style, which is variously described as "brutal," "sadistic," and "unsentimental," Haneke paints the portrait of a well-off, cultured elderly couple in Paris who have to contend with the increasing incapacitation of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). After suffering a paralyzing stroke, Anne asks her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to not ever put her in the hospital—so he oversees her final downward spiral, diaper changes and all.
Haneke's unvarnished, tense methods work best when danger looms; earlier works like Funny Games and The White Ribbon command a remarkable investment from their audience. In Amour, which opens with a scene in which firefighters break into the apartment to find Anne's corpse, we know, more or less, what's going to happen. And in the interim, not much does. Haneke unflinchingly portrays the mundane, depressing details of caring for a slowly dying spouse; long stretches of the film's unnecessarily full two hours portray nonevents like, say, spoon-feeding or dispassionate visits from a semi-estranged daughter. One of the most action-packed moments involves looking through a photo album. When a nurse is fired, we're deprived of even the meager entertainment of knowing what exactly she did to deserve it, and a creepy but brief dream sequence offers an all-too-short reprieve. In portraying a situation that... well, sucks, Haneke's signature devotion to honesty yields a result that is technically impressive, beautifully acted, and deeply boring.
Don't get me wrong: It's a breakthrough to see subject matter like this embraced by youth-obsessed American audiences. I want to see Riva—the oldest nominee for a best actress Oscar in history—win as much as anyone. Amour is an important film, and Haneke is a master, but the experience of watching this film is so unpleasant that it's impossible to recommend. Go outside and live your life while you still can. God knows you'll have to deal with this sort of thing later.