Amour Fou review – stark and chilly

In a tale that borders humour and horror, a man trawls 1810 Berlin for a partner in suicide. Think Woody Allen without the jokes…
'Vermeer-like tableaux': A scene from Amour fou.
'Vermeer-like tableaux': A scene from Amour fou.
'Vermeer-like tableaux': A scene from Amour fou.
Mark Kermode
, Observer film critic

Last modified on Wed 21 Mar 2018 20.17 EDT

“Would you care to die with me?” Inspired by the star-crossed tragedy of German Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel, this ultra-arch tale of love and death from Jessica Hausner (writer-director of 2009’s Lourdes) boasts Vermeer-like tableaux compositions, pointed song recitations and bouts of awkwardly polite silence. In Berlin, 1810, the infuriatingly self-obsessed Heinrich (think Woody Allen without the jokes) can quell his existential angst only by finding someone with whom to kill himself. Rebuffed by the beautiful Marie (Sandra Hüller), Heinrich’s attentions turn to Henriette (Birte Schoeink), devoted wife of a loving but unexciting official (“I am my husband’s property”) who is tellingly seduced by readings from The Marquise of O. Is Henriette’s sudden “incurable illness” merely a manifestation of her hidden desire? With a wry detachment that skirts the boundaries of humour and horror (you’re often unsure whether to laugh or scream), Hausner unravels the lies people tell each other – and themselves – as they retreat into self-absorption, the call of eternity constantly interrupted by the banalities of life. It’s stark and chilly, with an oddly engaging death’s-mask grin.