Oscars show love for Haneke's 'Amour'

Austrian director Michael Haneke finally got his due from Oscars voters Sunday when his "Amour" -- a searing tale of ageing, illness, death and dignity -- took home the award for best foreign film.

"Amour" (Love), which won the top Palme d'Or prize at last year's Cannes festival, also earned nominations for best picture, best director, best actress and best original screenplay -- a rare feat for a foreign language film.

"Thank you very much. What an honor," Haneke told the audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, also praising his stars -- best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva and veteran French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Uncompromising like most of Haneke's works, "Amour" however has a softer side than his last project, "The White Ribbon," which also won in Cannes but did not bring home an Oscar for the director in 2010.

In the French-language film, an octogenarian Parisian couple, Georges and Anne, lead a contented life until her health takes a turn for the worse, and the pair must deal with her increasing dependence and lack of mobility.

As the weeks drag on, they fight to keep her handicap from disrupting their routines, but Georges's despair at losing her mounts, and Anne asks him not to let her suffer if she becomes incapacitated.

Staged like a play -- most of the action takes place in one apartment -- "Amour" shines the spotlight on a simple middle-class household, cutting between scenes without fancy transitions and keeping music to a minimum.

The result is a brutally honest and human film about a loving relationship, and how love helps two individuals through hardship but ultimately destroys them.

The couple -- brilliantly portrayed by Riva and Trintignant -- eats, sleeps and talks uninhibitedly, the camera a mere observer that often stays put as the action moves elsewhere, waiting for the actors to return to the room they just left.

With its simple dialogue and realism, "Amour" -- which also won the Golden Globe and a BAFTA for best foreign language film, as well as best film at France's Cesars -- often almost feels like a documentary.

What especially carries it is the performance of its two leads, especially Riva, who is best known for "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and this year became the oldest nominee for the best actress Oscar.

Although one of Europe's most revered film directors, the 70-year-old Haneke only recently caught the attention of the Academy, despite international accolades for films like "The Piano Teacher" and "Hidden" ("Cache").

Known for his disturbing psychological dramas, the Austrian -- who prefers to work in France -- is also a noted perfectionist: his producers said he insisted on having an expensive oak floor installed on the film set to make sure it creaked properly as his actors walked across it.

"Amour," a German-Austrian-French co-production, marks Austria's second foreign picture Oscar after Stefan Ruzowitzky's Nazi concentration-camp drama "The Counterfeiters" in 2008.