DIR/WRI: Jessica Hausner • DOP: Martin Gschlacht • ED: Karina Ressler • DES: Katharina Wöppermann • CAST: Christian Friedel, Birte Schnoeink, Stephan Grossmann
Amour fou, Jessica Hausner’s follow-up to her 2009 film Lourdes, tackles the idea of the romantic suicide with the type of deadpan, minimalistic subversion that the subject matter deserves. The film examines the final months of the romantic German writer Heinrich von Kleist (Christian Friedel) as he seduces the wife of a civil servant, Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink), into participating in a murder-suicide with him under the notion that the expression of love is more noble in death than life.
Hausner sets out to deconstruct any glamorous depiction of the actions of von Kleist, portraying him as a man driven by his own self-importance rather than a belief in the notion of a romantic death. This is evident by the fact that his decision of choosing Henriette is not driven by any real desire towards her – his outlook on relationships with women appear to be completely asexual – but because his original choice, his cousin Marie, quite sensibly, turned him down.
Heinrich’s attentions towards Henriette seem to be brought on by the fact that he recognises the weaknesses in her. Henriette holds no ambitions at all, in fact she publicly states that she is the property of her husband and has no desire to seek any greater freedom. Henriette herself is also reluctant to Heinrich’s plans at first, though she seems to be affected by Heinrich’s blunt declarations that she is deeply unhappy and is incapable of loving anyone in this life.
When Henriette finally does succumb to Heinrich’s proposal, he is dealt a blow by the fact that her reasons are less to do with any feeling towards the notion of love in death but rather her desire to die after being diagnosed with a terminal tumour. With this, Hausner once again undercuts the shallowness of Heinrich’s ideals, in which he tells Henriette that he must think about carrying out his plan with her when he learns that her motivations differ from his, though he eventually agrees once he learns he is unable to convince Marie to change her mind. For all of Heinrich’s declarations of the nobility of his desires, he really just wants to die. And if he were unable to get the person he wants to die with him, then anybody else would do.
The fact that Heinrich is unable to recognise his own hypocrisy is reinforced by his awareness of the hypocrisy of Prussian aristocracy that he belongs to. The world in which they live mainly consists of meetings in chamber rooms where they denounce the ideals of the French Revolution and the notion of taxation on the wealthy while talking about the freedom of the poor, all the while being served by a meek and mostly silent servant. Heinrich plays along with these customs while privately denouncing them, almost like if it was a joke only known to him. What Heinrich cannot notice is that for all his observations, he is unable to distinguish between the self-interest of his class and that of his plan.
Hausner depicts this world through a series of mostly static compositions and tells the story with a glacial austerity. Underneath this exterior, however, lies some extremely deadpan humour, calmly mocking most of its characters, mainly Heinrich, own sense of importance. Crucially, the sense of mockery is not extended to Henriette, who, while not merely being portrayed as a victim, is shown as being a consequence of the confined world she lives in.
Amour Fou is yet again another challenging piece of work from Hausner. While its slow pace may try many people’s patience, it is through Hausner’s subtle storytelling, along with the well-pitched performances of the lead actors, that the film works. One thing is for certain; Hausner has depicted the suicide of the romantic writer in a suitably unromantic way.
Amour Fou is released 6th February 2015