Cultured octogenarians Georges (Jean-Louis Tringtignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle) are savouring their dotage attending concerts while quietly revelling in each other's company. However, when Anne suffers a debilitating stroke the dynamic of their devoted relationship is thrown out of whack with devastating consequences. Director Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The White Ribbon) clinically chronicles the inevitable disintegration of even the most loving partnership.
From Funny Games through to The White Ribbon, Austrian director Michael Haneke has coolly presented his credentials as one of cinema's most icily able manipulators - an ultra efficient emotional craftsman to be admired rather than loved.
So it's a pleasant surprise (well, perhaps pleasant isn't quite the right word) to report that this meticulous chronicle of the ravages of old age manages to combine Haneke's unforgiving attention to detail with a genuine compassion.
Harmonious couple George and Anne (Trintignant and Riva), both retired music teachers, are enjoying their twilight years attending concerts and bustling about in their unintentionally bohemian chic apartment in central Paris.
There's is a life of respectful devotion and gentle companionship...until Anne suffers a stroke that paralyses her side and leaves her unable to play the piano and reliant on a wheelchair for mobility.
George immediately takes the role of carer and the couple withdraw from the outside world bar the occasional visit from their kindly concierge and his wife plus their daughter Eve (Huppert), who's having domestic problems of her own.
Inevitably, Anne's condition deteriorates - her grim descent unflinchingly observed by Haneke - until dementia means she can barely communicate and the ever-dutiful George has to relent and call in the help of a professional nurse.
Simply told with no recourse to trickery, save for a disturbing dream sequence experienced by George, this becomes almost unbearable to watch as the two leads all too convincingly convey the disintegration of a seemingly indestructible match.
The pace never falters over the two-hour plus running time and the affection the couple feel for one another becomes almost tangible as George is powerless to prevent his life partner slipping away.
Dignified and humane, it's Haneke's most touching piece...and perhaps his best movie.