Haneke's 'Love' at the bitter end bowls over Cannes

The cast of "Amour" (from L) French actor Alexandre Tharaud, French actress Emmanuelle Riva, Austrian director Michael Haneke and French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant.

CANNES, France - A duo of octogenarian actors bowled Cannes over on Sunday as a devoted husband and his dying wife in a wrenching cinematic study of love at the bitter end by Palme d'Or winner Michael Haneke.

The Austrian director, who scooped the festival's top award in 2009 for "The White Ribbon", a study of malice in a German village on the eve of World War I, turns with his new work "Love" to the most intimate of bonds.

Haneke cast French screen icon Jean-Louis Trintignant, 81, and Emmanuelle Riva, 85, in the story of George and Anne, a couple of retired music teachers, whose rich and adoring relationship is cruelly tested when she suffers a stroke.

Set in the hushed rooms of the couple's parquet-floored Parisian flat, the film charts Anne's physical and mental decline, and the increasingly unbearable strain it puts on George, who pledges to care for her at home until the end.

Utterly believable in the role, Riva told a press conference after the screening that she threw herself heart and soul into the part, sleeping in her dressing room at the studio where it was shot to remain immersed in her character.

"I had a very, very strong desire to play this part," the soft-spoken actress said. "I had a kind of conviction that I could put myself in Anne's shoes.

"I approached it with a very powerful passion, and nothing seemed too difficult," she said. "I would run onto the set in the morning. And it was for me a great, great source of happiness." Her co-star Trintignant, a classic French film and stage actor whose breakthrough role was opposite Brigitte Bardot in the 1956 "And God Created Woman," also spoke warmly - and humorously - of the shoot.

"I am very proud to be in this film - but I won't be making any more! I suffered a lot! It was very painful, but very beautiful," he said.

Both actors said Haneke asked them to approach the tough roles "without sentimentality." "We don't feel pity for these people," the director said.

Isabelle Huppert plays the couple's daughter, who drops in occasionally from London to check on them, but remains a remote presence as they spiral together deeper into Anne's sickness.

Haneke said he drew on personal experience as the catalyst for the film.

"Once you reach a certain age, you necessarily have to face the suffering of the people you love," he told the press conference. "It's part of nature." "It raises the issue of how to manage the suffering of the people you love." Wheelchair-bound, half-paralysed, the intelligent, vivacious Anne early on tells her husband she does not wish to live such an impaired life. But carry on they do, as far as George can take her.

Yet the director makes clear this is not a film about the social challenges of caring for an ageing population.

"I don't write films in order to make a point," he said. "I had no desire to make a TV-style film about society and its problems."

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