Jessica Hausner crafts an enjoyably overblown tale of romantic longing and suicidal urges
A melancholic poet who longs for death — but only if the vivacious woman he loves will agree to a suicide pact, ideally to take place somewhere wild and scenic — is devastated when she laughs him off. Sensible woman! Then the depressed but persistent Heinrich (Christian Friedel) fixes his sights on an admirer, a prosperous Berlin businessman’s timid mouse-wife Henriette (Birte Schnoeink), and cruelly plays on her romantic yearnings. Making a quick substitution, he aims to persuade Henriette to partner him into the hereafter. Bad poetry proves damaging to the health as a sweet soul is infected by a pretentious twerp’s obsession.
Austrian writer-director Jessica Hausner (Hotel, Lourdes), who based Amour Fou on that of poet / playwright Heinrich von Kleist, has a great eye for detail, evoking the zeitgeist of early 19th century German Romanticism. There are lashings of internal storm and stress in characters eager to live (and die) in a heroic blaze of intense emotion, while poor little Henriette’s comfortable, uneventful life is turned upside down, and she makes herself ill nurturing the misery she’s persuaded she ought to be feeling. Meanwhile, one’s heart goes out to her unexciting and clueless but kind and supportive husband (Stephan Grossmann), and her forlorn child.
If this is intended as a sly satire of Romanticism’s extremes it works a treat. Much of the self-imposed desperation, despairing dialogue, and the fitful progress of the vacillating Heinrich and the uncertain Henriette’s chaste ‘insane love’ is seriously amusing, even as the unattractively self-absorbed Heinrich and fateful misunderstandings contrive an entirely unnecessary tragedy. Schnoeink’s Henriette is, nevertheless, a compelling, sympathetic central figure, however foolish and susceptible. (This is somewhat baffling, so tiresome is Friedel’s sickly gloom that one has to agree with Henriette’s unimpressed mother: 'I prefer Goethe'.) Cinematographer Martin Gschlacht (bless you!) takes the carry on to an exquisite visual level. If, however, one is meant to take it totally seriously you may want to kill yourself by halfway in.
Selected release from Fri 6 Feb.