CANNES, France – It's 43 years since Jean-Louis Trintignant was named the Cannes Film Festival's best actor for "Z," and 14 years since the French performer all but gave up filmmaking to focus on the stage.
He was tempted back by Michael Haneke's Cannes entry "Amour" ("Love"), which looks unflinchingly at death through the story of an elderly Parisian couple.
It may win the 81-year-old actor another prize. Trintignant and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva bowled over the Cannes audience Sunday as a devoted couple coping with the wife's worsening health. The Hollywood Reporter called it "magnificent in its simplicity and its relentless honesty."
Trintignant — who first gained fame in 1956 opposite Brigitte Bardot in "... And God Created Woman" — said he's been in more than 100 films, "but this was the first time I was pleased to see myself on screen."
"It was a wonderful opportunity, but I won't do it again," he told reporters in Cannes. "It was painful, but it was beautiful at the same time."
Haneke is a Cannes favorite who won the Palme d'Or in 2009 with "The White Ribbon," a stark portrait of moral erosion in pre-World War I Germany.
The Austrian is a famously demanding director who creates controlled but often devastating portraits of individuals, families and communities riven by repression and violence.
"Amour" breaks new ground in its obvious compassion for its characters, alongside an unflinching portrait of the realities of old age.
"I've never met such a demanding director," Trintignant said. "He knows exactly what he wants his film to look like. He knows the cinema through and through.
"It's a very difficult task," he said of acting in a Haneke film. "I don't advise that you do it," he added — at least partly joking.
Co-stars Riva and Isabelle Huppert — who plays the couple's daughter — insisted that working with Haneke was a joy.
It's the spectators who suffer, not the actors," Huppert said.
Many of the film's scenes are emotionally raw, but Trintignant said the trickiest sequence to film was one in which his character tries to trap a pigeon that has flown into the house.
"That was very painful, because Michael wanted to direct the pigeon — and he didn't think the pigeon was very good," Trintignant said.
"He made the pigeon do things again and again and I think there were two pigeons because one gave up."
"Amour" is one of 22 films competing at the festival, which runs to May 27.
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://Twitter.com/JillLawless