The Strange History of a Double Suicide Pact in this Artistic Period Drama

Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou is inspired by the real double suicide of German author Heinrich von Kleist and society lady Henriette Vogel in 1811. The Austrian film is a tightly constructed period piece exploring the contradictions inherent to suicide pacts and what they really mean about love. It is a dry film with a wry sense of humor, hoping to deconstruct traditional notions of romance and love. Amour Fou is a carefully crafted, sensitive film that doesn’t allow its characters and story any space to breathe in its highly artificial world, ultimately making it more of a chore than necessary.

Heinrich von Kleist was a German poet and writer. His novella “The Marquise of O” serves as the background for Amour Fou, a story about a virtuous lady becoming pregnant without knowing how and the Russian Count that wants to marry her. While it is not necessarily required reading for Amour Fou, a cursory understanding of the novella greatly helps. Amour Fou depicts Heinrich’s odd, desperate quest to find a suitable partner willing to commit suicide with him. The melancholy poet would rather die with someone in a suicide pact than live in happiness under a normal marriage. Christian Friedel plays the forlorn poet in a mannered, unassuming performance.

Rejected by his first choice to commit suicide together, Heinrich meets the well-to-do Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink). Henriette is a married woman that admires his controversial The Marquise of O. When Henriette learns she has a terminal illness, she becomes more and more intrigued by his curious proposal to commit suicide together. The ensuing negotiation between them becomes a careful comedy of manners. Henriette has a seemingly fine husband and loving daughter but the poet’s strange offer becomes more and more attractive.

Amour Fou is an accomplished film in terms of its craft. Director Jessica Hausner builds a very dry, rigid world for Amour Fou’s characters in its Romantic era Berlin setting. That may be the intention with Amour Fou’s focus on the claustrophobic world of the Prussian aristocracy.

The film dabbles in critiquing the aristocracy’s twisted sense of self-importance…

Henriette’s husband could put an end to her foolish exchanges with Heinrich at any time if he would simply speak up, but seems overwhelmingly deferential and polite to say anything. That may be a condemnation of the society’s values, implying manners are no replacement for emotion. Does Henriette’s husband truly love her or is their marriage a mere business arrangement? The film dabbles in critiquing the aristocracy’s twisted sense of self-importance and worth to society, though it feels like an afterthought at times in the tight narrative.

It is hard to pinpoint what Amour Fou is really saying about this particular society and its characters. One thing it doesn’t allow is breathing room for its characters, as the dialogue and performances are carefully controlled to the point of suffocation. Heinrich’s strange goal is less about love and feels much more like a post-modern deconstruction of romance. The rich period setting misleads viewers into thinking these are actual historical characters. When in fact the characters end up being closer to elaborate reconstructions of deeper themes. That removes some of their humanity and reminds viewers how artificially staged Amour Fou becomes.

An audience for Amour Fou certainly exists but I suspect its deeply ironic and dry structure will lose some fans along the way. It does explore interesting themes of love and devotion from a different perspective with its curious characters. This is finely tuned drama meant to be dissected but I can’t say it is completely enjoyable. Amour Fou is an exacting, sterile movie designed to provoke intelligent discussion.

Movie★★★☆☆

Armour Fou Blu-ray screen shot 8

Film Movement Classics gives the 2014 film an outstanding Blu-ray presentation. The 95-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-50. Averaging 30 Mbps, the pristine digital transfer replicates the superbly shot movie with complete transparency and life. The video is presented in the film’s intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Shot on the ARRI ALEXA camera, Amour Fou shines in sharp clarity. Exterior scenes are especially vivid with their careful compositions and vivid color palettes. This is clean, handsome picture quality without serious flaws. Interior shots are flatter with slightly less detail, likely a result of less ample lighting. Black levels remain fairly crisp with a strong, steady contrast.

The ARRI ALEXA gives the period film a different kind of visual tone than film-goers have come to expect from this type of movie. The highly manufactured and precise production design looks somewhat lifeless in the modern digital footage’s stark clarity. It is presented in an unfiltered transfer with no overt processing. Flesh-tones err on the paler side of the spectrum.

Video ★★★★☆

The German-language film comes with a tasteful 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack as its primary audio. Amour Fou is a quiet film with no actual musical score outside of a few scenes involving an operatic singer. Its wide dynamic range conveys the dialogue in crystal-clear but soft fidelity, though that may betray my lack of experience hearing the German language. A handful of surround moments are included to justify the DTS-HD MA soundtrack but the stereo PCM soundtrack provides a fine approximation in similar fidelity. This is adequate, mannered sound design that does a satisfactory job.

The optional English subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Film Movement Classics offers a decent amount of special features for this highly evolved movie.

Director’s Commentary by Jessica Hausner – The Austrian director speaks in fairly solid English for this solo effort. While somewhat patchy deeper into the film with occasional periods of silence, she focuses a great deal on the fundamental inner workings of the story and its characters. Hausner is one of the rare directors willing to share her full intentions and aims making the film. She lays out a tidy summary of her working process and delves into deconstructing her own movie. I wish more directors would emulate this approach instead of recalling what they had for lunch during a particular scene’s shoot.

Interview With Jessica Hausner (07:59 in HD) – This interview with the director is in German with English subtitles. She talks about how Amour Fou was the result of three different attempts over the years. The script was originally about a double suicide set in modern times until she came across the fascinating story of Heinrich von Kleist.

Four Deleted Scenes (All in HD) – They run 02:47, 01:08, 03:18, 01:04 respectively. These scenes are left to stand for themselves. A couple of them include dream scenarios by Henriette and Heinrich. Of the four scenes, the first one would have been an interesting addition to the film as more character building.

Amour Fou Trailer (01:44 in HD)

OIDA (03:00 in HD) – This bonus short film was directed by Jessica Hausner for musical duo Attwenger. In reality it’s a brief music video.

Various Film Movement Trailers (Six in all) – The Marquise of O (01:34 in HD), Full Moon In Paris (01:21 in HD), Stations of the Cross (01:58 in HD), Breathe (01:44 in HD), Theeb (01:20 in HD), The Chambermaid (01:21 in HD)

Extras ★★☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.