11 June 2012 | 3:34 pm | Ian Barr

Michael Haneke's Amour begins picks up roughly where his The White Ribbon left off  with an audience staring back at us, although this time it's upscale Parisians at a recital rather than fascists-to-be. You have to do some detective work, but within the long-held shot of the crowd is the film's central aging couple, played (astonishingly, natch) by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmauenelle Riva. The democratising effect of this shot foregrounds a film that's overwhelmingly intimate and claustrophobic as it confines its action to their single apartment home.

As Haneke forces us to lend intense scrutiny to a process. Her growing dementia and death and his helplessness in its face that, in lesser filmmaking hands, we'd rather look away from. Haneke, noted master of cinematic severity, never lets the waterworks flow on Trintignant's part for easy catharsis; there's the sense that his character has felt through the sting of impending loss off-screen in the film's early stages, leaving more complicated feelings to boil over the film's duration. To his discredit, Haneke makes both his characters musicians for seemingly no other reason than to cheat his usual filmmaking rigor and include some weepy piano music diegetically, and there's one ill-advised (albeit pants-pissingly effective) jump scare in the vein of Cache. That these are the only flaws, however, speak to what a devastating piece of work it is, from a master filmmaker whose craft is ironically just growing more refined with age.