Mad Love

A "romantic comedy" based loosely on the suicide of the poet Henrich von Kleist in 1811.


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  • ★★★★ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd


    When you have seen a number of mid-period Ozu films, and have accustomed yourself to his compositional style and flawless pacing, you sort of internalize his vision in a way. It becomes imprinted on your cognitive pallette, as it were. Most of us start with the black-and-white films, so upon first seeing one of Ozu's masterworks in color, it's mindblowing: how could a sensibility so attuned to a specific set of parameters so successfully accommodate the addition of a new universe of choices?

    This is a strange way to start talking about Jessica Hausner's Amour Fou. However, this film's meticulous mise-en-scene is bracing and revelatory, in part because Hausner owes so much to late Dreyer here. In fact, it's as though Dreyer had gone on to incorporate color into his Ordet/Gertrud method, and it's like seeing everything anew.

    The way Hausner articulates the domestic space in which Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink) resides - which to a certain extent defines her - is so spare, so subtle, until we really spend the time and allow its quiet power to radiate. Think of the placement of the little girl's ball on the lower right of the frame, just throwing the symmetry off and casting a narrow shadow across the carpet, for example; or the frequent positioning of the Vogels' Weimaraner in a small pocket of the image, like a forgotten glimmer of normalcy. As with Dreyer, these spatial arrangements achieve an unnerving dialectic. They are so fixed and fastidious as to paradoxically emanate a spiritual radiance from their insistent materiality.

    This would be impressive enough if Amour Fou had nothing else to offer. But the physical insistence of domesticity, the thickness of drapes but also their luminous color saturation, speaks directly to Henriette's subject position. Heinrich von Kleist (the beautifully vapid Christian Friedel) believes she is a perfect candidate for his doomed-Romantic suicide pact because, in his self-effacing arrogance, he truly feels she has nothing worth living for. (Recall that his cousin Marie, played by Sandra Hüller, was Heinrich's first choice for the double-death pact.) Henriette's interest in Kleist, and her psychological illness, point to dissatisfactions that cannot yet be named, but Hausner and Schnoeink make it obvious throughout that her uncertainty and confusion is a far more reasonable intellectual stance than Kleist's melancholic retreat.

    This contest of wills, which cannot really be a contest at all (more like two competing, available modes of passivity) dovetails perfectly with the film's political subtext. Following the decisive defeat of Napoleon, Prussia was in a state of flux, struggling to maintain the monarchy even as the writing was on the wall. The Germans could turn back the French, but not their democratic philosophies. Raymond Williams often spoke of historical formations as uneven combinations of the residual, the dominant, and the emergent.

    Amour Fou, without belaboring the point, depicts just such a moment of transition. But more importantly, Hausner shows that these complex revolutions were always written across the bodies and the psyches of women, even as they were presumed to be cordoned off from such "matters of the world." What an extraordinarily intelligent film.

  • ★★★★½ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd

    Death by taxes.

    This is the most exciting thing I will probably see at the Cannes Film Festival, and I plan on beating this drum for many months to come. Reviewed at The Film Stage.

  • ★★★★ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd

    Those Germans really know how to do romantic comedy. "I love you, I want you to kill yourself with me." It really is the height of Nihilistic devotion. Sorry to throw a misnomer at you so early in the piece but Jessica Hausner's Amour Fou cries out for it, languidly.

    Hausner revels in the irony of the poetic martyrdom of her film, taking delight both in its expressive gender politics (the film is none too kind on poor Heinrich (Christian Friedel), who is caught in his own personal poetic consumption) and in the ridiculousness flaccidness of German Romanticism (again, see Heinrich's sink hole of personal worth).

    If Amour Fou sounds like it is all about the man, it is, but only to accommodate its amusingly persistent eye-rolling. There's a knowing resignation to the acquiescence of Henriette (Birte Schnoeink), the object of Heinrich's self-aggrandising affections, and an icy feminist wit to her mother's crisp asides.

    The beauty of Amour Fou is that it manages to link this stilted past to contemporary gender relations so eloquently. The film's television flatness quickly dismisses period drama's distancing lushness and the cast's relatable reactions freshen the genre's stuffiness and ups the laughs.

    Black comedy at its most pastel.

  • ★★★★ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd

    "All he cares about is himself!"

    The doctors insist Henriette's malaise is terminal illness, a self-absorbed intellectual tells her the only true love is to give in to death with him, and any ossified system of control worth its salt will try to warn you that the future of new freedoms will only be a source of further misery.

  • ★★★½ review by Vadim Rizov on Letterboxd

    "Henriette is initially resistant to entering a mutual suicide pact, but when diagnosed with an incurable tumor she changes her mind, and not for the last time. It’s one of Hausner’s little jokes (repetition being a key principle of comedy) that this mutual consummation is scheduled, canceled and reattempted time and time again: this is a mutually destructive relationship comprised of only one, initially hypothetical act, with ancillary sexual and social relations virtually elided. This cycle is reminiscent of a very literal version of Maurice Pialat’s nobody-learns-anything relationship drama We Won’t Grow Old Together, another story about a couple that repeatedly reunites, nullifying each break-up that would serve their mutual benefit. von Kleist persuades Henriette she has a latent death wish: 'This may often happen. You think you want to live, but you want to die.' He’s a seducer who promises something like romantic liberation while talking her to(wards) death — mansplaining as murder."

    Dug it.

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