Set in Berlin between 1810 and 1811, Amour Fou is director Jessica Hausner’s seventh feature length film, which explores the final days in the life of the poet and writer Heinrich von Kleist as he seeks out a partner to accompany him in death.
Kleist is a young man who has lost all reason to live in a rapidly changing upper-class society that is spiralling out of control, almost through inertia, as opposed to chaos. However, rather than attempt to fight in desperation to preserve this lifestyle, where he is merely put on display to demonstrate the cultured facet of the German gentry, he strives instead to kill himself and challenge the notion that everybody dies alone. Hence, he chooses to execute this plan by proposing a suicide pact to any prospective female whom, were he not violently depressed, he might have taken in marriage if the world was not such a tediously choreographed series of shallow, looping events.
Understandably, one may find it immensely difficult to fathom empathising with such a nihilistic character, but to the filmmaker’s credit, Hausner has managed to explain and effectively justify Kleist’s motives by putting on show the absolute aimlessness of the world that he silently despises. Shot like a series of near-motionless Georges Seurat paintings, with dialogue or music dubbed in afterwards, many of the main characters present are intentionally two-dimensional faceless figures, existing almost for the sake of occupying space. The colours, sights and music are all beautiful, but there is nothing else to hold onto. Kleist serves as a reminder of this bleak fact, as he looms despondently over each scene like a shadow, or an even more chilling version of the Kaonashi spirit from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001).
Hausner is intentionally pushing the viewer into sympathising with a frighteningly morbid antagonist, to such a point that it is unsettling upon reflection. She refuses to offer any substantial protagonist, but rather empty humans with no future worth salvaging. In fact, there is much here, in terms of style and story, which reminds me of the psychopathic traits that defined Only God Forgives (2013). However, despite being a bloodless affair, Amour Fou is no easier a ride to take due to its unapologetically nihilistic attitude that will split opinions as it slowly sinks into the abyss.