Berlin, early 19th century, Romantic Era, a time when Goethe's writings were leading many young boys to mysteriously commit suicide across Germany, it here we meet a young poet Heinrich (Chrisitan Friedel). Heinrich claims, "that it is not the fear of death, but the fear of life which he cannot live with." The young morbid, obsessive Romantic wants to join what he sees the two tenants of Romanticism in life: the ultimate show of love through death (which he will manifest through a murder suicide). Amour Fou, Austrian director Jessica Hausner's follow-up to her successful look at dogma-less religious fervor, doubt and jealousy in her 2009 success Lourdes, is just as placidly composed and as narratively deliberate as its predecessor, and a brush of black-comedy underlies both. Heinrich, in love with his cousin Marie, wants her to join his suicide pact, but she denies him. Heinrich, forlorn at what he sees as his cousin's inconceivable refusal and distraught by his cousins' insensitivity to his sensibilities, yet seeming a bit like destiny he meets the married Henriette (Brit Schoenik). Heinrich holds her mystified, but when Heinrich proposes his suicide pact to her, it appears it will be another refusal, until Henriette finds that she is terminally ill. The back-and-forth between Heinrich who does not quite want to give up on killing himself and Marie but does not want to miss his chance with Henriette, and Heinrich selfishly wanting Henriette to want to die out of pure love and not just because of her possible terminal-illness, while all the while knowing that it is Marie he loves most of all, works wonders for the complexity of the film and the intertwining of relationships within the narrative.
What makes Amour Fou standout among other films of it's like is the way in which Hausner, cinematographer Martin Gschlacht and production designer Katharina Woppermann capture the essence of this time in German history with a precise visual sense. Each frame is structured precisely—especially the interiors which are geometrically defined tableaux)—each sequence layered, some look as though they are tableaux vivant. Most of the scenes are witnessed through a detached camera that allows characters to move in and out of the distinctive picturesque shots or on the contrary allows them to stand and be examined statically from a slight distance, allowing the audience to pick up on minute (but important) details like facial gestures, mannerisms, etc. which builds tension within every scene, especially the scenes in which Heinrich's awkward presence looms like a bird of doom, perpetually out of place and easily mortified by the overlapping dialogue and the rhetoric it contains (where the audience can be clued in on the historic mindset of the Berlin bourgeoisie at this time). The musical piano numbers that are interspersed through the film, happening at each party, are mystifying, and are also filmed in the layered, tableaux form of most interior scenes. Amor Fou impresses in how it handles characters, changes points of view with such ease, and handles the subject matter quietly and evenhandedly. Instead of making the film a straightforward cliché of Romantic period artists, Hausner chooses to drive her characters by honest dialogue, somewhat realistic approaches to performances and does not try and hide or romanticize the selfish, ridiculous, egotistical tendencies and mindsets of the narrative's two main characters, nor their misunderstanding of what "love" truly means. Yet, the most commendable (outside the visual mastery of each scene) is the way Hausner examines her characters non-moralistically, never harshly judgmental, nor relishing in their life altering mistakes. The story itself and the time frame it is set in are based on real events, though Hausner does not paint herself into a corner attempting to stay true to the "facts," but the obvious social and historical elements of the story (post-French Revolution and the spreading of those ideas to Germany, the inevitable fall of the Prussian Empire, and the effect of Romanticism in culture and arts of the time) play well off of the scenarios and the metaphysical tribulations of the characters. Hausner's empathy shines through as she delivers a thoughtful character study, ultimately examining the power of the mind and willpower, while at times playing delightful games with the audience, forcing us to question and to quantify how large the difference is between mental illness and true love. Hausner tops the film off with a powerful and understated ending which stays true to the entire aesthetic of the film as a whole. After her past two deliberately paced and highly contained character studies of equal visual propensity with Lourdes (2009) and Amour Fou (2014) every film lover should be on the lookout for Jessica Hausner's next.
Berlin, the Romantic Era. Young poet Heinrich wishes to conquer the inevitability of death through love, yet is unable to convince his skeptical cousin Marie to join him in a suicide pact. It is whilst coming to terms with this refusal, ineffably distressed by his cousin's insensitivity to the depth of his feelings, that Heinrich meets Henriette, the wife of a business acquaintance. Heinrich's subsequent offer to the beguiling young woman at first holds scant appeal, that is until Henriette discovers she is suffering from a terminal illness—Cannes Film Festival
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