Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Starring: Christian Friedel, Birte Schnoeink, Stephan Grossman
From the moment Amour Fou begins, it has a distracting air of grand theatricality normally found in a stage show. By the time the curtain comes down at the end however, you’re left with the unimpressive and minor memories of a tiresome amateur dramatics play.
Berlin, the Romantic Era. Henriette (Birte Schnoeink) is the wife of a wealthy businessman who finds her life shaken when she’s diagnosed with a mysterious terminal disease. Heinrich (Christian Friedel) meanwhile, is a poet and dramatist who wishes to conquer the inevitability of death by committing to a suicide pact with someone he loves. At first his offer holds no appeal to Henriette, until the reality of her illness becomes more apparent.
While other Euro-set period dramas, such as the sumptuous A Royal Affair, have succeeded in exploring with great depth and energy a time many of us remain shamefully ignorant of, Amour Fou has all the liveliness of a history lecture being given to an uninterested class by a tutor who is falling asleep.
The script is neither as insightful nor philosophical as it perceives itself to be, but there are some interesting tangents that briefly enliven proceedings. Discussions of an impending new tax law allow writer/director Jessica Hausner to make some sharp and satirical comments at the expense of the German Aristocracy. While Henriette’s ailment allows for a series of bizarrely amusing scenes that observe some spiritual treatments of the day. However, for the most part this is a dull and drab tale that feels hastily contrived and rushed to be told.
Indeed the banality of it all soon becomes such a test of your mental concentration that you find yourself fidgeting in frustration. Martin Gschlacht’s largely immobile camera tries to instil the idea that you are watching the past come back to life, but the cloying claustrophobia of the bland and baron interiors has you wishing for it to be put out of its misery.
The complete lack of effort from the cast does little to enhance the dour mood that comes from watching Amour Fou. The performers deliver lines with a trite lack of harmony with each other or the emotion for the situation, as if they’re simply regurgitating lines being whispered to them from a prompt standing just outside the shot. Friedel is a particularly grating presence throughout, failing to ever embody the complexities of an artist struggling to express himself the way he wishes to.
Those hoping to learn more about this rarely explored era of German history are the ones likely to find themselves most disappointed by Amour Fou. Despite some interesting asides, there’s never anything here to truly engage you, although there’s more than enough to bore you.