Amour Fou

 

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An eccentric take on the suicidal poet and dramatist Heinrich von Kleist fails to find a satisfactory tone.

   
Amour Fou

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A talky period piece set in Berlin in the years 1810/1811, Jessica Hausner's Amour Fou is a very odd thing. A series of static tableaux punctuated by drawing room recitals (from poetry to grand opera), the Austrian-German film unfolds like a very dry black comedy. However, the central character, the real-life poet and dramatist Heinrich von Kleist, was in deadly earnest when he approached various women with the romantic offer of a suicide pact. As played by Christian Friedel, he is a rum sort with embarrassing hair and a stiffness that can only pass for social discomfort. Of course, they were all rather brittle in this milieu and loth to ruffle the conventions of high society. This makes Heinrich’s constant request “would you care to die with me?” all the more eccentric. Heinrich Von Kleist was in fact the most eminent North German dramatist of the Romantic Movement, whose quest to fulfil an idealised nirvana was actually quite tragic. Hausner, who previously directed Lovely Rita and Lourdes, has opted for a pictorial realism that recalls the visual oeuvre of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi. The film is, indeed, stunning to look at and its actors – particularly Paraschiva Dragus as the gormless Pauline, the piano-playing daughter of Birte Schnoeink’s Henriette – capture the uneasy mood with finesse. However, the result is infuriatingly abstruse, bleak and unreadable. A darker tone – which Hausner's fellow countryman Michael Haneke might surely have given it – would have reaped dividends.

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

Cast: Christian Friedel, Birte Schnöink, Stephan Grossmann, Sandra Hüller, Holger Handtke, Peter Jordan.

Dir Jessica Hausner, Pro Martin Gschlacht, Antonin Svoboda, Bruno Wagner, Bady Minck and Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Screenplay Jessica Hausner, Ph Martin Gschlacht, Pro Des Katharina Wöppermann, Ed Karina Ressler, Costumes Tanja Hausner.

Amour Fou Luxembourg/Essential Filmproduktion/Coproduction Office-Arrow Film Distributors.
95 mins. Austria/Luxembourg/Germany. 2014. Rel: 6 February 2015. Cert. 12A.