Michael Haneke‘s Amour really gains when you know what it is and what’s coming and when. It’s a masterwork, all right, but it’s no picnic. Everyone in Jimmy Stewart #23 filed out like zombies after it was over, like they’d been gut-punched into submission. Except they hadn’t been. Amour is about nothing if not compassion and tenderness.

My first viewing in Cannes was the first handshake and the first gulp, the first “oh, no” and “good God, I’m sorry.” Last night’s screening was about getting to know Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Rivas a little bit better, and settling in with their sadness more in the way of a neighbor than an observer.

I think it’s probably too rough to be a Best Picture nominee, but if this happened I would be amazed and proud of the Academy for manning up and recognizing its greatness. I think it’s a lock for Best Foreign Language Oscar. It was submitted three weeks ago by Austria, where the funding came from.

Amour is a sad, brilliant, diamond-hard thing about aging and dying. The diamond-hard aspects are in the fact that it’s quite spare and lean and yet it doesn’t avert its gaze when Haneke so chooses. It’s about love that won’t quit until it does, until it must. I still maintain that it’s a kind of compassionate horror film. Instead of filling our heads with nightmares of being killed by ghouls or vampires or serial killers, Haneke is telling us “this is how you’re actually going to end up unless you have the courage to overdose on something or put a bullet in your head or jump off a bridge like Tony Scott.”

Anticipating the audience dread factor, Haneke tells you at the very beginning that finality is in store and that the slow torture aspects won’t last forever, but it’s a lot easier knowing that a certain kind of payoff or release is coming at a certain point in the film.

Amour will open in NY or LA on 12.19.12. There’s a luncheon and press conference with Haneke happening here next Wednesday.

I still stand by these observations, which I tweeted after seeing Amour in Cannes:

Tweet #1: “Michael Haneke‘s Amour is a very finely made, corrosively honest and delicately realized Chinese water-torture movie about slowly dying and loving mercifully right to the end.”

Tweet #2: “Jean-Louis Trintingnant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver frank affecting performances as an 80-something couple coping with drip-drip finality.”

Tweet #3: “But who apart from that certain strata of cultivated urban filmgoers will pay to see Amour? My 80something mom and her friends at her assisted-living facility would turn it off if they saw it on DVD, trust me. They watch escapist dreck in their TV room. Musicals, TV trash, etc. Never films of substance, and they would probably take gas before watching a film like Amour.”

Tweet #4 and #5: “I spent half my Amour-watching time deciding what form of suicide I’ll choose when I get that old and my life becomes that pathetic. Pills. As romantic as it sounds, I don’t want to be torn apart by wild beasts. I want to expire on a nice couch while watching a Bluray of Derzu Usala.”

Tweet #6 and #7: “I don’t know how the boomers are going to handle death in their ’80s and ’90s, but I’m betting many will go by their own hand…but with flair. Amour is two hours and 7 minutes long. Sublime and refined and honest and sensitive, but old age and withering away with diapers is not for sissies. I know — I saw my father do it four years ago.”

Tweet #8 and #9: “Amour deserves and will get much respect critically, but nobody wants to die like this and I wonder how many will want to watch this process in a film. This is how it’ll possibly be, says Michael Haneke, if you’re lucky enough to have a partner who cares as deeply and tenderly as Trintignant does for Riva. Great! But I’m now thinking about driving to Montana and buying a Glock.”