By Alexandra Zawia
Biographies reveal that the German Romantic writer Heinrich Von Kleist always wanted to die. When you consider that his witty, darkly subversive, socially critical and emotionally charged body of work never got the recognition it deserved in his lifetime, that death wish is easier to understand. Still, some trepidation on his part towards the prospect of suicide would be understandable. Death, they say, has a soothing quality, but can “they” be trusted? Kleist wanted to have a partner in dying, and he found her in the supposedly terminally ill Henriette Vogel. What starts out as the chronicle of this doomed romance (the lovers agree to execute their fatal pact well in advance) gradually evolves under Jessica Hausner’s direction into a multilayered examination of relationships and love in general, and the human capacity—or need—for self-deception.
Hausner’s Lourdes (2009) was a sublime and immersive film, more so than Amour fou, which presents itself, via its distanced and clinical approach, as a comedy of errors. The shots are meticulously composed, tableaux-style, held tightly in place by the director’s usual DP Martin Gschlacht. Despite this heightened formalism, the film is still a dialogue-driven chamber piece at heart. If the overall vibe is static, it suits a movie that attempts to scrutinize (if not rationalize) absurd emotions. And it doesn’t entirely block the filmmaker’s (or the audience’s) affection for the characters.
Hausner is very skilled at bringing out the ambiguities of her material, and keeps shifting the tone towards sardonic humour. For this, she leans a lot on her star, Christian Friedel, whose Kleist is a perfectly tortured and egoistic fatalist. Hausner also manages to smuggle in a little 19th-century sociology, probing the greed and moral cluelessness of her bourgeois characters. These background details—like a stray line about Prussia looking to impose taxation on its citizens—hint at the revolutions right around the corner.