Written & directed by Jessica Hausner (JLH: 2/5)
Contemporary retelling of the suicide pact that lead to the deaths of Heinrich von Kleist and Henrietta Vogel in 1811.
With Napoleon in control of most of Europe and the Continent in upheaval, von Kleist looks for a partner to end it all on his own chosen schedule. And even though she barely knows him, Vogel decides to join von Kleist after learning she has a fatal illness (thereby deliberately choosing her own time of death as well).
Heinrich von Kleist was almost as famous in his time as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) who created the template for romantic suffering with the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774.
Although I am usually just the right audience for this kind of period drama, I am sorry to say I found Jessica Hausner’s take sopororific. The dialogue is stilted and the look is far too stylized. Moment by moment, it felt as if a vampire has drained all the blood from the actors (Birte Schnöink as "Henrietta Vogel," Christian Friedel as "Heinrich von Kleist," and Stephan Grossmann as Henrietta's husband "Friedrich Louis Vogel"), leaving them to walk through their parts in a fog.
What remains is a lovely Goethe poem called Das Veilchen (The Violet) which was set to music by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hausner plays it through three times in her film, and each time is heart-stoppingly beautiful.
But luckily for us, we can listen to The Violet courtesy of Wikipedia without having to suffer through the folly of Amour Fou on screen. Here is an English translation of the German lyrics:
A violet in the meadow stood,
with humble brow, demure and good,
it was the sweetest violet.
There came along a shepherdess
with youthful step and happiness,
who sang, who sang
along the way this song.
Oh! thought the violet, how I pine
for nature's beauty to be mine,
if only for a moment.
for then my love might notice me
and on her bosom fasten me,
I wish, I wish
if but a moment long.
But, cruel fate! The maiden came,
without a glance or care for him,
she trampled down the violet.
He sank and died, but happily:
and so I die then let me die
for her, for her,
beneath her darling feet.
Note that Mozart himself added the following line to Goethe's poem at the end of his setting:
"Poor little violet! It was the sweetest violet."
Top Photo: Birte Schnoeink as "Henrietta Vogel."
Middle Photo: Schnoeink with Christian Friedel as "Heinrich von Kleist."
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Film Movement
Q: Does Amour Fou pass the Bechdel Test?
Henrietta has brief interactions with her daughter, her maid, and some of her society friends, but no real "conversations" with any of them. Even her conversations with von Kleist and her husband Friedrich are perfunctory.
There is some interesting social commentary in the film, with well-dressed men talking to other well-dressed men about the potential implications of the French Revolution on the German aristocracy. Women are in the room during these conversations, but they do not participate, they only listen.
Gorgeously-costumed women provide the aesthetic decoration and also the music. The Violet is sung three times, first by a woman Henrietta describes as a famous singer, once by Henrietta herself, and once by Henrietta's teenage daughter.