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Amour

‘Amour’: True love

Austrian director Michael Haneke has often been accused of casting a cold, even sadistic, eye on the characters who suffer through cruelly uncompromising films like Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, Caché, and The White Ribbon. That detached, clinical style, demanding, above all, that we watch and be implicated in what happens on-screen, informs Amour as well. What’s new is Haneke’s ineffable tenderness toward iconic actors Jean-Louis Trintignant, 82, and Emmanuelle Riva, 85, as their characters succumb to age, illness and death. A lesser director might descend to melodrama, cliché, bathos, Lifetime TV sentimentality, Big Scenes to sex up this kind of unglamorous subject matter. Haneke remains scrupulous and austere: emotionally, morally, aesthetically. A relentless and shattering masterwork, Amour breaks heart but satisfies soul.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour’

A cultivated Parisian couple in their twilight years, Anne and Georges have “always coped,” as Dad later tells a concerned but useless daughter (Isabelle Huppert). Former music teachers, they attend a concert by an outstanding protégé; a grand piano has pride of place in their cozy living room, filled with a lifetime of books, photographs, recorded music. When they return to their apartment after the concert, we watch the two move through familiar spaces, chatting in that companionable, half-heard way people do when they’ve lived together for years and years, “Did I mention that you look pretty tonight?” Georges inquires.

The familiar movie faces are eroded by age, but lost beauty lies just beneath the ruined flesh: Riva illuminating Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Trintignant Judas-ing the woman he loves in The Conformist. Both actors show their new masks to the camera sans embarrassment or apology. Intelligence, integrity and a striking sense of character present and accounted for dominate.

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Old age ain’t for sissies

Life doesn’t end at retirement. Not that you’d know that from the movies, where senior citizens are routinely relegated to supporting roles in stories about young and sexy characters played by bankable movie stars. They’re comic relief, crotchety commentators, sage mentors or simply another responsibility for folks in the prime of life, if they are seen at all. Unless it’s a British film, of course, and then they’re a bunch of spunky old folks defying conventions with a twinkle in their eye and deadpan sense of humor, something that Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren seem able to do effortlessly.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour’

Michael Haneke’s Amour takes a very different perspective on the golden years. It confronts issues of age, physical deterioration and illness with an unblinking focus. What makes it so memorable, however, is the ferocity with which the aging couple hold on to their independence in the face of such adversity, demanding their dignity and the right to determine their own fate.

Amour is one of the most defiant portraits of oldsters who refuse to exit quietly, but it’s not alone. Here are a few of the most interesting, entertaining and vibrant films about aging folks who continue to live, love, chase their dreams, fight for their independence, defy society’s expectations and, when necessary, rage against the dying of the light. Don’t expect the adorable oldsters and gentle life lessons of Calendar Girls or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is about senior citizens who confront old age on their own terms.

“Going in Style”

George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg are a trio of septuagenarians who decide they’re done with marking time until death and decide to take up a hobby. Specifically, plotting and executing a bank robbery. Yes, these three do in fact rob a bank, but director/writer Martin Brest (of “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Scent of a Woman” fame) is much more interested in the day-to-day lives of these men as they share a cramped little apartment and stretch their Social Security checks to scrape by on a modest existence, enduring the utter boredom and frustration that makes robbing a bank such an attractive proposition. It sure beats hanging out in the park feeding the pigeons. Burns, Carney and Strasberg don’t play these guys for laughs. They stoop and shuffle, mourn lost friends and loved ones, and remind us of the frailties of age, which films so often ignore. But for a time, they really live it up. Talk about refusing to go quietly.

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