Note: Throughout the movie, random time lapses occur and the action never leaves Georges and Anne's apartment. The length and events between time lapses is implied by conversations between characters and Anne's worsening condition. Also, scenes shift very quickly and often times show quick shots of trivial things (ex. someone vacuuming) before moving on to the next scene. The film is in French with English subtitles.
The film opens in Paris as a fire brigade breaks into an upper middle class apartment. The head inspector asks if anyone is present and receives no reply. They try to open doors to rooms, but they are all locked and plastered shut. The smell in the house is nauseating, so the inspector opens several windows right before the brigade breaks into the bedroom to find a deceased woman named Anne (Emanuelle Riva) in a bed surrounded by flowers.
Anne and Georges (Jean Louis Trigntinait), a retired married couple and former music teachers attend the concert of one of Anne's former students. After the show, the student kisses Anne and shakes Georges' hand. They are next seen on a bus going home. Arriving home, they see that their apartment has been broken into. Georges says the burglar used a screwdriver and the job wasn't done by a professional. Anne is more distraught than Georges, who promises to call the caretaker in the morning. They get undressed and have small talk before going to bed. Georges wakes up in the middle of the night and sees Anne awake. He asks what's wrong, and she says nothing is. They are next seen having breakfast. Georges is on the phone with the caretaker while Anne prepares their eggs. While Georges goes on with small talk, Anne suddenly goes blank. Georges notices after a few minutes and tries to get her attention, growing more and more worried when she doesn't reply. He gets up to soak a dish towel, leaving the tap on, to put on Anne's forehead. When that doesn't work, he goes to get dressed to take her to the hospital. While putting on a sweater, he notices that the sound from the running tap has stopped. He goes back into the kitchen to see Anne perfectly fine and telling him that he left the water running. Georges questions her, asking if this is some sort of prank. Anne is confused, having no recollection of what just happened. Georges explains everything, but Anne has no memory of it and only remembers hearing the water running and getting up to turn it off. Georges says he is going to call the doctor, but Anne insists that she is fine and gets defensive.
Georges sits in his study with his daughter Eva (Isabelle Hupert). She tells him of her upcoming musical tour with her husband or boyfriend (never specified) Geoff. Georges asks what will be of her children, and she says that her daughter is at boarding school, and her son is 26 and lives his own life. It becomes apparent that Georges and Anne are not close with Eva at all nor are they close with their grandchildren. Eva describes how her Geoff fell in love with a violinist in their ensemble, and the violinist caused a great stir when she tried to commit suicide. The conversation shifts to Anne and Eva asks how her surgery went. Georges sighs, explaining that the doctors did a test and found that her carotid artery was blocked and that surgery would be necessary. He continues by saying that Anne has always been afraid of doctors, but that the risk was low and if they didn't operate she could have another much more serious stroke. However, the surgery did not go well, falling into the five percent that go wrong. Georges reassures Eva that everything will be fine, and there is nothing she can do to help. Eva recalls how when she was a child she would listen to Georges and Anne have sex and feel safe that they would always be together.
Men come into Georges and Anne's bedroom to install a special bed for Anne. Georges arrives home with a wheel chair constricted Anne, presumably from the hospital. Georges tips the men and they leave. The caretaker of their building, Mr. Merry, tells the couple that they shouldn't hesitate to ask if they need anything. They thank him, and he leaves. Georges wheels Anne to their study and she asks him to pick her up and place her in the arm chair. Georges sits down. Anne makes him promise to never take her back to the hospital. He protests, but Anne insists he promise. Georges concedes. Later that night he helps her into the newly installed bed. He continues trying to assist her, but Anne tells him not to wait on her and to go relax since she doesn't need his help at every turn. Georges brings her a book, (the new book by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Austrian) - the classical conductor) and she thanks him, but tells him to now go cater to himself. He leaves and she manages with the book despite being paralyzed on one side of her body.
The next day Mr. Merry's wife arrives with groceries. She asks how Anne is doing, and Georges says she is fine and thanks her for the help. Georges smokes a cigarette near an open window when Anne asks for his help getting off the toilet. Cut to breakfast the next morning: Georges recalls a day in his childhood when his grandmother gave him money to go to the movies. He tells Anne that the film was a banal love story of star crossed lovers, and when he got out he was shaken up and needed time to calm down but an older boy, a showoff who impressed Georges, who lived near his grandmother's house requested to hear the synopsis, causing Georges to break down in tears while recalling the emotion in the film. Anne tells him that he never told her this story and attributes it to him not wanting to "ruin your image in old age." Georges laughs and asks what his image is. She tells him that he can be a monster but that he is nice. After breakfast Georges exercises Anne's leg. In their study that evening, he says that tomorrow he must attend the funeral of a colleague, though he does not want to. Anne asks if the wife of the man knows of her condition and understands that she can't come. Georges tells her that he informed all of their friends, and they all understand. She asks of their reactions, and he says they were shocked, prompting Anne to continue her questioning. This annoys Georges, but he apologizes if he is being insensitive, he just doesn't see the value in discussing it all the time.
The next day, Georges arrives home from the funeral and sees Anne on the floor under an open window after a failed suicide attempt. He sits her back in her wheelchair, and Anne plays it off like nothing happened. When Georges is unconvinced by her small talk, she says, "Forgive me, I was too slow." She asks to be wheeled into their study. Georges takes her into the study and scolds her for attempting to kill herself. Anne says he wasn't supposed to be home so early, but he's not, he just took a taxi, and there was little traffic. She asks him to tell her about the funeral. Georges says it was bizarre: The priest was an idiot, a colleague of the deceased man gave an embarrassingly emotional speech and brought a mixtape with "Yesterday" by the Beatles and the kids started giggling as soon as the music began. The urn was placed on a slow electric stretcher, which caused many people to giggle. Georges says it must have been terrible for the wife. Anne quickly shifts the conversation to herself, saying there is no point in living and that her condition will only worsen. She says she doesn't wish to inflict suffering on either of them. Georges says she is not causing him any suffering and says things are getting better. Anne insists she does not want to carry on, despite Georges' "sweet efforts" to make things easier. Georges refuses to believe her and asks her what she would do in his place. She doesn't want to think about the ethics of it and says she wants to go to bed. Georges complies silently.
The next day, Anne's student from the beginning of the film drops by. He tells Georges he tried calling after the concert, but Georges says that he only picks up the phone when the number is stored. The student says he had to pick a location to record his album and chose Paris and while he was in his hotel he thought he'd drop by. He gives Georges a bouquet of flowers and Georges sits him down in the study, complimenting him on the concert and saying he is happy to see him. The student seems to be unaware of Anne's condition since the concert. Georges leaves to get Anne. When he wheels her in, Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud), (Anne addresses him by name for the first time when seeing him) is shocked that she is in a wheel chair. They begin talking, and Anne tells him how proud she is of him and that the concert was so good that Georges wanted to buy his CD the next day (the morning that Anne suddenly went blank during breakfast, Georges offered they go to Virgin to buy it. However, he said this when Anne already went blank, implying a plot hole or perhaps he mentioned it later as it is unclear how much time elapsed between that morning and Anne's failed surgery.) Alexandre says he will bring one by but Anne protests saying they would love to contribute to his success even if it is only 20 euros. He says she already contributed so much, and he owes his success to her. Alexandre asks what has happened to her, and she says her right side is paralyzed. When he asks how Anne politely insists they change topics, though telling him not to be offended and that she just wants to enjoy the distraction that his visit has brought. Alexandre smiles and complies. Georges asks how his career has been going since the concert and Alexandre describes his travels, saying he was in London performing Schubert and now wishes to record an album of his sonatas. Anne asks if Alexandre would play for her a piece that she made him play when he was a child. He says he doesn't remember it very well but would gladly try. He goes to the piano and begins playing. The scene cuts to Anne trying out a motorized wheelchair in their home. This cuts to a home attendant vacuuming the living room while Georges washes Anne's hair. That evening, while Georges eats dinner he hears Anne collapse in the bedroom. He rushes over to her and sees that she attempted to get out of bed herself. He is angered since she broke a lamp and doesn't understand why she won't just call him if she needs something. Anne apologizes.
Georges brushes his teeth when he hears the bell ring. He goes to he door, and no one is there. He walks the hall and sees that a neighboring apartment is open. Georges asks if anyone is there and receives no reply. He walks further, and there is a huge flood. His feet are in the water, and a hand reaches from behind Georges and covers his mouth as he starts screaming. Georges wakes up screaming in bed, and it turns out it was a nightmare. Anne calms him down. The next day Georges reads a text message from Eva while putting on Anne's shoes. He says that she and Geoff are coming in a few days. Anne says she doesn't want Geoff to come because she doesn't want any comments on her condition and can only "handle his British humor in small doses." Georges helps Anne exercise around the house by holding her while she takes small steps. Next they are in their study and Georges opens a package with Alexandre's CD and a letter. He puts the CD in a music player and reads the letter aloud, which says that Alexandre was very happy to see her and is heartbroken at her condition. When Georges concludes the letter Anne tells him to stop the CD.
While eating, Anne asks Georges where their old photo albums are and says she'd like to look at them. He goes to get them and Anne thanks him. She begins looking through them and comments that they've had a long life. The next morning while picking Anne up from bed he sees that she wet herself. Anne is mortified, but Georges tells her its no big deal and places a towel on her wheelchair before putting her in it. She breaks down in tears and Georges comforts her.
In the next scene, it is apparent a lot of time has passed since Anne is confined to her bed unable to move or speak. Eva sits at her bedside talking about her travels and the economy. Anne struggles to respond, barely completing her words as Eva patiently tries to decipher what Anne is saying. Georges is in the study speaking to Geoff (William Shimell), telling him that they are trying out a new home attendant. He says in one moment he feels as though Anne is not aware of her condition, but in the next he feels the opposite. Eva comes into the room hysterically sobbing saying that Anne only says gibberish. Geoff gets up to calm her down, and Eva sits in his place saying that Anne is unrecognizable and should be cared for in a hospital. Georges explains that after her second stroke (this is never seen on screen and implies that a great amount of time has elapsed) her doctor said she can be spared the inpatient treatment and is better off on medication at home and that he refuses to send her to a nursing home since he promised to keep her away from doctors. Geoff asks if all of this is not too much for Georges and Eva begins berating Georges for picking a solution which is clearly not working. Annoyed, Georges tells Eva to stop treating him like an idiot, and that he got a second opinion that concurs with the one Anne's doctor gave. He says starting Monday a nurse will come three times a week and that being said he wishes to change subjects.
Georges listens to the radio as he washes the dishes. A nurse puts a diaper on Anne and even though Anne is expressionless. It is clear that she is humiliated. The scene cuts to a healthy Anne playing the piano, perhaps implying that to escape the embarrassment of what the nurse is doing Anne is recalling herself in her glory. Georges sits with Anne at her bedside and feeds her some kind of porridge. After three mouthfuls, she refuses to eat any more. She starts saying "mum to the concert...no dress" over and over again. The scene cuts to an attendant giving Anne a shower as Georges watches with a pained expression. When leaving, the attendant tells Georges not to worry about Anne, continuing to say, "mum" and that it's just mechanical. Georges sits by Anne and tells her that he would like to hire a second attendant, and the two can take shifts. Mr. Merry brings groceries and Georges tips him. Right before leaving, Mr. Merry tells him that he and his wife are very impressed at how Georges has been handling everything and that he takes his hat off to him. Georges smiles and thanks him just as he gets a call from Eva. Cut to Georges tries to helping Anne sing, but she can barely utter a lyric. In the next shot, the new attendant aggressively brushing Anne's hair.
A pigeon flies in through an empty window. Georges shoos the bird out of the house.
Some time has elapsed, and Georges is firing the second attendant. She protests, saying she quit a job so she could take this one. Georges says he had no idea she would be so incompetent and doesn't wish to further discuss it, insisting she allow him to pay her so she can leave. She begins angrily defending herself, saying she has done this job for years, and Georges is no one to tell her that she is doing it incorrectly. He continues counting her money and gives her 800 euro, 20 more than she is owed due to her not having change. She takes the money and calls him a wicked old man, and that she feels sorry for him. Georges tells her that he wishes from the bottom of his heart that one day she is treated the way she treats her patients and that she too will have no way of defending herself. She tells him to go fuck himself and calls him an old fart before finally leaving. That night Georges struggles to make Anne drink water. Georges threatens to call a doctor, saying he is out of his depth. He then forces the straw into her mouth and she takes a sip, only to spit it out. Losing control, Georges slaps Anne, instantly shocked and saddened at his action. He asks Anne to forgive him.
One afternoon, Georges is in his study when the doorbell rings. It is Eva, dropping by unexpectedly. Before opening the door, he goes to the bedroom and closes it so that Eva doesn't see her mother. He flushes the toilet to make it appear as though it took him long to open the door because he was in the bathroom. He invites Eva in, and they go to the study. Eva instantly starts questioning Georges, asking of Anne's condition and why he hasn't picked up the phone. Georges tells her that her worries are of no use to him and that he doesn't have time for them. Georges quickly gets angry, saying that Eva and Geoff have their own lives, and they should have their own too, and that Eva's visit caught him by surprise, and it annoys him that she comes by unexpectedly to check if everything is okay. Eva is surprised by his reaction, and he says "Who do you think you are?" She angrily gets up and goes into the bedroom. When she comes back, she asks if Georges has gone completely crazy. He tells her that he spares her the details because the drama isn't worth it. Georges calms her down, and she sits. He tells her of the daily routine, how sometimes it is a success and other times it is not. Eva says he has no right to forbid her from seeing her mother, and they go to the bedroom. Anne is asleep, and Eva wakes her up, asking if she can do anything for her. Anne starts muttering "mum" over and over again. In the study, Eva cries and Georges brings her tea. Georges admits it was wrong of him to keep Eva from her mother and apologizes. Eva asks what's going to happen from now on, and Georges says things will continue as they are.
At Anne's bedside, Georges talks to her and Anne has no trouble replying. They have a conversation as though Anne was healthy. While shaving, Georges hears Anne saying gibberish over and over again, as though she wasn't fine before. Georges asks what is wrong, hoping she isn't delirious. However, she continues muttering gibberish. Georges sits at her bedside and tells her a story of how he went to summer camp when he was little. Throughout the story, she continues making the same sound over and over again. He describes the camp and how at 6am, the kids had to jump in an icy lake and the programs which kept them active. He moves on to talk about how horrible the food was, and he would never eat, so the counselors would never let him leave the dining hall. While sitting there, he would draw a postcard to his mother for three hours and the postcards would be covered with stars. Then he describes how he fell ill and was quarantined meaning his mother could only wave to him through a window. Anne is unresponsive, and Georges slowly reaches over for a pillow and smothers Anne, unable to cope with the pain any longer. Sitting by a lifeless Anne, George quietly cries. The scene cuts to Georges arriving home with several bouquets of flowers. He begins cutting the flowers over the sink. Next he plasters the bedroom door and writes a letter when he notices a pigeon in the kitchen. He puts the pencil down and grabs a blanket to throw over and capture the pigeon. When succeeding, he releases the pigeon and describes it in the letter he is writing. Georges goes to bed.
He awakens hearing a noise in the kitchen. He sees Anne washing the dishes. She tells him that she is almost done, and he can put on his shoes. Georges goes to put his shoes on and helps Anne put her coat on. As they leave, Anne asks if Georges is bringing his coat. He goes to take his coat, and they leave, implying Georges died in his sleep and they are both moving on to the afterlife.
Eva comes into the apartment. Looking around, she sees that it is empty. She sits down in the study, and the film ends.
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