Part adult romance, part middle-class horror movie, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner is an extraordinary meditation on love and death that succeeds not just on account of its director’s calculating intelligence but because of two brilliant performances by its 80-something leads.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play two moderately well-to-do Parisians living a comfortable existence in relative solitude. Their peers are dying, they have a daughter (Isabelle Huppert) who doesn’t visit much, and Riva, a former music teacher, sometimes sees her old students. Yet what was once a close, self-sufficient relationship is rocked when Riva suffers a serious stroke.
From here, the film becomes a powerful albeit uncomfortably bleak and forensic study of old age, controlled with icy precision by writer/director Haneke. Trintignant, as the shell-shocked husband, gets the meatier part, but it is the fearless Riva, reduced from a smart and elegant woman into a helpless, insensible shell, who really makes this such an unforgettable experience.