#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.
The final weeks in the life of Heinrich von Kleist and his muse Henriette Vogel is the subject in Jessica Hausner’s compelling chamber piece set in the early 19th century. Christian Friedel, who played the school teacher in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, portrays the enigmatic Kleist, a famed German poet and novelist who’s become disillusioned with the mundanity of life. We meet him early in conversation with his cousin Marie (Sandra Hüller) as he casually asks her if she willing to die alongside him – she, amazed by the sheer brazenness of this question, politely declines this bold request.
Disheartened by her rejection, Heinrich turns his attentions to Henriette (Birte Schnöink), a respected socialite and the wife of a wealthy government official. He proposes the same question as he did Marie, and enforces this ludicrous proposition by describing her as lonely, loveless and an outsider like himself. Henriette takes offence at this character assessment, and rebukes the suggestion that she is unhappy by claiming she has both a loving husband and daughter. However, not long after she refuses his offer, she is given second thoughts when a spell of fainting fits leads to her being diagnosed with a fatal illness.
Amour Fou is a slow-burning, astutely composed drama, where the majority of the running time is taken up by rich aristocrats quietly talking with one another inside lavishly decorated enclosures. This may not sound like the most appealing of spectacles, but you’d be presumptuous in thinking this was a stuffy costume drama as the plot is closer to the fantastically ludicrous than the deadly serious. Actors purposefully portray their characters to show little emotion and their conversations are punctuated with long spells of uncomfortable silence that makes for deliberately awkward but compelling viewing.
As already demonstrated in the magnificent Lourdes, Hausner has a spectacular eye for visual composition – her camera stays mostly resolute throughout and she frames her images in a manner that’s reminiscent to the precise symmetrical style of Wes Anderson. But with its blackly comic undertones and biting cynicism, Amour Fou unmistakably belongs in new wave of contemporary Austrian cinema alongside the works of some of her other countrymen, such as Haneke and Seidl. Though perhaps not as oppressive as some of theirs, this is no less opaque.