GEORGES and Anne live a comfortable life of retirement in their Paris apartment. They are in their 80s, but the two former music teachers venture out to concerts and the odd funeral. They read, they cook, they listen to music. They receive visitors, including former students who have become celebrated musicians. They offer tea and sympathy to their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) as she visits from London and vents about her unsatisfactory husband.
It is a good, comfortable life, but one evening over dinner, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) simply blanks out, failing to respond to an increasingly panicked Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The fugue state only lasts a minute, but it will be a turning point in their love story.
This is unexpected material for Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke, whose past work (Funny Games, The White Ribbon) tends to be cerebral and chilly. But it is of a piece with Haneke's ethos. He's a filmmaker who takes long lingering looks at subjects we would rather not consider.
That is the challenge Georges faces as Anne suffers a series of debilitating strokes and becomes increasingly less self-reliant.
Befitting the elderly characters, Haneke paces this story slowly. This is not frustrating because the apartment, where almost the entire movie takes place, is rather magnificent, and the two actors who move through the space are magnificent, too.
Riva (see her younger self in the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour) unflinchingly portrays the physical deterioration of a vital soul without flinching.
Unlike Riva, Trintignant didn't get an Oscar nomination earlier this year, but probably deserved one. In his prime, Trintignant played reticent, close-to-the-vest characters in films such as The Conformist and Z. This movie uses his previously cool screen persona to great effect, as Georges' stoic determination to care for Anne suffers stress fractures that accumulate and result in a scene that is simply shattering.
Yet behind it all, one never forgets the title of the film, and its appropriateness to the subject matter.
In movies, the visual lexicon of love is sex. Haneke offers a different interpretation that should be easily recognized, yet is almost radically subversive by Hollywood standards. ****
Parks and Recreation Season 5
THIS consistently droll sitcom arrives on DVD at the same time as the final season of The Office, sans Steve Carell. The contrast is significant: Where The Office trundled on past its prime, Parks and Rec is comfortably ensconced there.
The cast led by Amy Poehler (as newly elected Pawnee city councillor Leslie Knope) is fine, but the season highlight may be the guest spot by Patton Oswalt in the episode Article Two. Oswalt plays a history buff who launches a "citizen's filibuster" to fight an effort to modernize Pawnee's antiquated laws, and the DVD features Oswalt's brilliant, improvised nine-minute riff -- a nerd's perspective on how the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII should go: "Pan down from the twin moons of Tattooine. We are now close on the mouth of the Sarlaac pit. After a beat, the gloved Mandalorian armour gauntlet of Boba Fett grabs onto the sand outside the Sarlaac pit and the feared bounty hunter pulls himself from the maw of the sand beast..."
OK, that bit is easily accessible online, but the discs also feature a particularly raunchy gag reel of rude outtakes wherein Chris Pratt (Andy) once again proves to be one of the braver cast members. ***1/2