Year: 2012
Production Co: Les Films du Losange
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmannuelle Riva, Issabelle Huppert

If you watch enough movies, you start to think that when you die, it's going to be on a battlefield or chaotic street, some implement or weapon thrust through your body or a gunshot wound seeping onto the pavement as someone you love crowds in, listening to you declare 15 seconds of profound wisdom before your head falls to the side and someone looks at the sky and shouts 'noooooooooooooooo!'

But as statistics, history and modern medicine tell us, this is the way most of us (in the western world, anyway) will die. We'll simply get sick because we're old, and it will kill us.

It's hardly cinematic, but Michael Haneke never has been. An elderly married couple living in contemporary Paris are going about their lives until one of them – for no reason other than age – gets sick, then gets sicker, heading towards the inevitable.

The story can hardly be described with more detail than that for you to get the message, and Haneke doesn't ladle a lot more detail than that into the story. One day during breakfast, Anne (Riva) suddenly freezes mid-conversation with her husband Georges (Trintignant). After a minute or so, things go back to normal and she has no idea she's even been gone.

We almost never leave the couple's apartment, but in a series of languid, relaxed scenes, we learn Anne has had a stroke. There are no doctors with grave faces imparting the bad news about her condition, the script in each scene bring you up to speed on Anne's worsening state as she loses control of one side of her body, becomes increasingly bedridden and becomes more of a burden on Georges, elderly himself and determined not to relegate her to a hospital.

The plot is like a long, lazy roll downhill – there are no real narrative peaks or troughs, as if the structure itself is a comment on the slow decay that faces most of us.

It's the kind of movie you can't imagine an American filmmaker being able to do – they're far too used to audiences who demand the Holy Trinity of emotion, drama and conflict. There's actually little real conflict at all apart from the fruitless one against the looming shadow of death, and even the disagreement between Georges and the pair's daughter over Anne's care is soft-spoken, quiet and never raises its voice.

Because of the detached, steady-handed approach of the rest of the film, I was completely shocked by the climactic act, and slightly confused by the conclusion. If I know the films of Michael Haneke, I don't think he'd had it any other way.

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