Heinrich Von Kleist is a man with a plan. Rather than sharing his life with someone, Von Kleist the self-serving egotist wants a woman to dedicate herself to him through death via a suicide pact. After his advances are spurned by his cousin Marie, Heinrich turns to Henriette for love. Initially rejecting his advances, Henriette begins to see love and death in a new light when she is struck down by an unexplained illness.
Austrian director Jessica Hausner took home four awards from the Venice Film Festival for her 2009 drama, Lourdes. With expectations set so high, Amour Fou does not disappoint. Loosely based on the life and death of the real 18th century German poet, writer and dramatist, Heinrich Von Kleist, Hausner masterfully weaves complex themes through her at once pitiful and droll account of his demise.
Set in Berlin in the Romantic period, we are introduced to the inhibited formality of Henriette Vogel’s upper class family. At moments, it’s hard to tell if Henriette’s hunched shoulders are a symptom of the character’s awkwardness or an attempt to prevent her bosom exposing itself from the scant fabric of one particular dress. Great effort went into ensuring costumes were accurate for the period, though achieveing historical accuracy was clearly not an aim for the director in most other respects. With elaborate interior sets and measured, ornate dialogue, the scenes are far more reminiscent of a constructed theatre piece than even the self-conscious, societal reality of Germany in 1811.
Amour Fou has been described as a romantic comedy, but the term should be used loosely. With fleeting moments of comedy, normally provided by unexpected, candid statements from individual characters, the film is exceptionally tragic. As the suicide pact hurtles towards its inevitable conclusion, we are left with Henriette’s young daughter performing a song to a small audience in her home. She sings of “inner pain” and adult themes that jar uncomfortably with her age and innocent appearance; a haunting omen of pains to come.
Amour Fou is released nationwide on 16th February 2015.
Watch the trailer for Amour Fou here: