'Amour' Review: Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or Winner Transforms Pain Into Joy

Michael Haneke's latest film Amour (aka Love) is probably the saddest happy movie ever made. It tells the harrowing story of an elderly couple's long time love for each other and how their bond is tested when one of them falls incredibly ill. Depressing? More than you can imagine. But Haneke's realism and the unbelievable performances of his leads, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, somehow takes terrible pain and transforms it into an affirmation of life.

Audacious in its attempt to make opposite ends of the emotional spectrum into perfect complements, Amour is a true feat that's not to be missed. The film won the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival and just played AFI Fest presented by Audi. Read more after the jump.

It's impossible to discuss Amour, or think about its power, without putting yourself in the characters' shoes. So let's role play. You've moved out of your home, are living on your own, doing well and one day you find out one of your parents experiences a set back. Mom and Dad are forced to live with this struggle every second of every day. They face ugly truths like an inability to go to the bathroom or wash without an assistant. Dementia. The embarrassment and shame of every single person who you used to love only focusing on your shortcomings. Then you pop in, fitting them in to your life when you can. You care, but you can't relate to their pain. How does that make them feel? Do they feel loved? Of course. But ultimately there's resentment because you simply can't understand what they're going through.

Pity is the true link between joy and pain in Amour. The characters, Georges and Anne, are proud, independent, successful people. They enjoy the arts, food and everything normal people enjoy. Yet when one's health starts to deteriorate, everyone around them forgets about that. The negatives becomes the only focus, creating an uncomfortable situation for not only them, but for their children, neighbors, and friends. It turns everyone who loved them into an object of fear.

These are just a few of the complex situations and emotions explored by Haneke in his fascinating and harrowing film. As one would expect, the audience is put through the ringer. Sad, uncomfortable, mad, awkward, it's all there for us to endure. But as we do so, the incredible strength of the characters rings true as they make difficult decisions based on their undeniable love and respect for one another. It's painful, but beautiful to watch.

Amour opens on a limited basis on December 19 before expanding to indie theaters nationwide.

/Film rating: 8.5 out of 10