Amour Fou screens Friday at 1 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and April 19 at 7 p.m. at A/perture at RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem.
by Jordan Green
Amour Fou skewers the social conventions and attitudes of early 19th Century Prussian society, both the traditional reverence for established order and the burgeoning romanticism of individual attainment. Both modes, reflective of the times, diminish women to an afterthought.
Based loosely on the life of poet Heinrich von Kleist, the story centers on Henriette, the wife of a liberal-leaning administrator under the country’s chancellor. Played by Birte Schnoeink, Henriette seems to be suffering from some sort of “illness of the spirit,” or perhaps a tumor or ulcer. Her troubles play out in a series of parlor scenes against the absurdist backdrop of a tax-reform program that has the aristocracy astir, because they will have to pay taxes, along with the serfs, who might develop dangerous notions of equality as a result.
The hilarity of the dry dialogue is only amplified by the tightly controlled movement of the actors, with each frame seeming to mimic a period painting. The various breeds of lapdogs, whose flopping tails are sometimes the only movement within the frame, only add to the ambience.
Several scenes simmer with satire, as when the doctor prescribes Henriette “bed rest and bloodletting,” adding, “Avoid all local irritation. This also includes intercourse.”
The look of intensity on his brow as he utters the last word is flooring.
The poet Heinrich, played by Christian Friedel — who bears an uncanny resemblance to the historical Heinrich von Kleist — would seem to be a natural ally for a woman in Henriette’s situation. But Heinrich’s preoccupations with immortality, personal suffering and individualism only deepen his self-absorption, again relegating Henriette to an afterthought. And so this dark romantic comedy winds down to its inevitable conclusion.
Amour Fou, dir. Jessica Hausner, 96 min., 2014