Octogenarian French acting legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give stunning, energetic performances as a married couple facing the bitter end in Michael Haneke’s critically lauded, multi-awarded “Amour.” Below, a look at some of the classic films that put Trintignant and Riva on the map.
1. “My Night at Maud’s” (1969) Trintignant stars as Jean-Louis, an engineer loner living in the wintry bourgeois provinces in Eric Rohmer’s elegant, talky portrait of relationships and chance. A devout Catholic, Jean-Louis has his ideal future mapped out with alarming certitude — right down to the pretty blonde stranger he plans to marry. His unshirking path is impeded, however, when he spends Christmas night with a sexually confident, cards-on-the-table divorcee (Francoise Fabian). Nestor Almendros’ crisp black-and-white cinematography paired with Rohmer’s unusual editing style, which lets shots linger on faces during long conversational sequences, affirmed a brilliant, ongoing director-cinematographer collaboration. It is the second feature in Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales.
2. “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (1959) This early staple of the French New Wave was 32-year-old Riva’s first screen credit and Alain Resnais’ first feature, shooting both to international stardom following the 1959 Cannes film festival. Riva gives a performance at once bright and anguished, playing an unnamed French actress in Hiroshima, Japan, for a film shoot. She meets and falls in love with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) over the course of one feverish day and night. As the two wander a city that seems in a delicate state of repair and yet perversely ordinary, captured by remarkable location shooting that serves as an historical document, Riva excavates personal wartime memories from the debris of her past.
3. “The Conformist” (1970) In Bernardo Bertolucci’s stylish adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel, which garnered the director an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, Trintignant stars as Marcello, an inscrutable young man so traumatized by a sexually abusive childhood experience that he becomes a murderous pawn for the Italian Fascist movement and a miserable husband to a tittering dimwit (Stefania Sandrelli). Bertolucci’s zany direction and use of punchy, popping 1930s art deco set design is in fine contrast to Trintignant’s performance — all glassy eyes and mechanical limbs, hiding an abundance of pain.
4. “Leon Morin, Priest” (1961) Jean-Pierre Melville, a director known for his brilliantly methodical, male-oriented crime films, strays from his usual path with this deceptively circumscribed woman’s film that has one foot in the French New Wave. Riva stars as Barny, a resourceful Parisian widow relocated to the French countryside during World War II. Her world is almost entirely women — all the men have either joined the Resistance or been taken to concentration camps — until she stumbles into the confession booth of Leon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a smart, smoldering priest with manipulation to burn. Riva strikes a balance between aching wistfulness and devil-may-care buoyancy; her cartoonish shrug she repeats throughout the film is a gem. And the role requires some guts. Barny has an explicit lesbian crush on a co-worker, and at one point mentions masturbating with a stick (!).
5. “Les Biches” (1968) During an early sequence in “Amour,” Riva playfully teases that her husband was a bit of a handful in his early days, which Trintignant greets with a rascally, devilish smile. In “Les Biches,” Claude Chabrol’s erotic, malevolent psychological thriller, we get a glimpse of where that smile comes from. Trintignant plays Paul Thomas, a playboy so effortlessly cunning he breaks up the malaise-laden lesbian relationship between stunning beauties Stephane Audran and Jacqueline Sassard during their sojourn in Saint Tropez. Trintignant isn’t a typical screen Lothario, but his steady gaze and guarded seriousness — which breaks at key moments for, yes, that smile — suggests powerful seduction lurking under an unassuming surface.
6. & 7. “Three Colors: Blue” (1993) and “Red” (1994) Both Trintignant and Riva have roles in Krysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. Riva plays Juliette Binoche’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother in “Blue,” a small role, but emotionally crucial to understanding the film’s themes of strained yet resilient human connection. (Case in point: Riva watches a TV special, mesmerized, as bungee jumpers plummet and then bounce on their dancing cords.) Trintignant has a larger role in “Red,” playing a hermetic judge who has seemingly given up on morality, tapping the adulterous phone conversations of his next-door neighbors. Kieslowski’s films look at the strange, almost magical interconnectivity of the universe — unrelated events collide and complete strangers find each other. It’s appropriately Kieslowskian that Trintignant and Riva, who never appeared onscreen together until “Amour,” would have roles in the bookending installments of this trio of films. A sign of collaboration to come.