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Old love

FILM OF THE WEEK:

Amour (12A)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (12A)

Reviewed by Demetrios Matheou

The Austrian Michael Haneke has long been acknowledged as a brilliant director; yet he's also a cold fish, cerebral and mischievous, whose films – notably Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, Hidden and The White Ribbon – have left us profoundly pessimistic about the human condition.

Amour changes all that. It's still a tough watch; how could it not be, when it concerns mortality and the particularly terrible task of caring for a loved one in decline. But the emotional temperature is new, as Haneke eschews his ironic distance for an intimate, essentially positive account of love in adversity. This is Haneke with a heart.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play octogenarian couple Georges and Anne, retired music teachers who are still very much in love. They lead a quiet, dignified life in Paris. But then Anne's health starts to decline, with horrid rapidity. She implores her husband to keep her out of the hospital. And a man who is no spring chicken himself becomes her carer.

Almost all of the film takes place in the couple's apartment. Within it, Haneke presents an absorbing depiction of care, as George feeds, cleans, carries, consoles and berates his partner. We find ourselves feeling desperately for each of them. Haneke regular Isabelle Huppert makes fleeting visits as the couple's daughter, but the film belongs to the magnificent, heartrending performances of the elderly leads (for whom making the film must surely have prompted uncomfortable thoughts about their own mortality).

Riva essays the physical and mental disintegration of a proud woman with extraordinary skill, Trintignant his character's complex emotions with sublime mastery. With the camera in constant close-up on his age-ravaged face, it's as if we are watching a changing sky, as tenderness, concern, frustration, bewilderment and love pass across it. I remember admiring Trintignant's reclusive magistrate in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours: Red in 1994, when he was 64, and assuming it would be his last great performance. I was wrong. The film won the prestigious Palme D'Or in Cannes in May. It was then, and is likely to remain, my film of the year.

Love and death are also the themes at the heart of the Twilight movies, though they are played out a tad differently. It's hard to engage with the plight of characters who can only die if their heads are pulled off.

As the extended title suggests, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II is the end of a long haul, which began four years ago with the fresh and sharply focused tale of a mortal teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire – a cute fable of angst-ridden adolescence – but lost its way through some anaemic sequels.

The first of the two-part conclusion saw Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) marry Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), give birth to a half-human, half-vampire baby, then finally become a vampire herself. This guides the couple over the finish line, as they see off the vampire bad guys, the Volturi, who have designs on their child.

As ever, proceedings are awash with schmaltz and bogged down by Twilight mythology that only the teen aficionados of the book could possibly keep up with. On the plus side, Stewart's hitherto lacklustre presence has been galvanised by her new teeth – her Bella is now hungry, lusty and dynamic. And director Bill Condon finally delivers some decent action to the series, with a corker of a climactic battle. The hardcore fans may be the only ones left at the table, but they ought to be satisfied.

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