The penultimate film in our Feminist Film Month and honestly, it’s been an interesting month.
So far this Feb we’ve gone from arranged marriage and friendship than spans cultural ideals to sexy sixties witchcraft. And now we’re examining suicide and inertia in the 19th century. I can only imagine how we’ll sign off the month but I firmly believe it will have to be with a bang, it’s only right. (I do have an idea, don’t you worry, it’s going to be fabulous).
Without further ado, let’s crack on with the suicide pact, shall we?
Amour Fou (2014)
Berlin, the Romantic Era. Young poet Heinrich wishes to conquer the inevitability of death through love but hasn’t found the right person to share this experience with. This changes when he meets Henriette.
Life can be awfully hard, can’t it? Tiring at times and at others, it seems all too pointless. Or at least that’s how whiny poet Heinrich (Friedel) feels. As a result, he has decided he wants to end it all but not in the straight-forward shuffling off this mortal coil on his own sense, of course not.
Our man wants to be assured that one special lady loves him enough to end her life by his side, proving once and for all that death with him is more worthwhile than life with anyone else. Right.
So that gives you an idea of the character of Heinrich who frankly, in the remake of this film which will never come, should be played by Jesse Eisenberg, who shares his fleshy lipped aesthetic and the same irritating air. But that’s an aside.
Heinrich is a man with a plan and his sights are set on his cousin Marie (Hüller), who tolerates his incessant persuasion but is in no way tempted by his offer. I cannot fathom why.
Heinrich is beginning to lose faith when he meets Henriette (Schnoeink) and her family at some social gathering or other. Henriette is married to her husband Vogel (Grossmann) and they have a (dreary) young daughter called Pauline (Paraschiva Dragus).
It may sound odd, but I am not looking for a partner in life. But rather in death. ~ Heinrich
Henriette has a fascination with Heinrich’s poetry, openly expressing an affinity with the leading lady from a particularly distressing piece of prose (she is attacked by a mystery offender who turns out to be the man she’s in love with). This makes her stand out to Heinrich (lucky girl) and the pair form a friendship of sorts.
One afternoon, by the river, Heinrich outlines his desire for Henriette in the clunkiest way imaginable. She is understandably: a) insulted (he tells her nobody loves her and she loves nobody) and b) very against the idea of a joint suicide. Sadly, she doesn’t really have the time to ponder the absurdity of the situation (and his rude breakdown of her character) as shortly after this meeting she is taken ill.
Henriette’s husband Vogel (Grossmann) is a sweet man who genuinely cares for his wife, vowing not to rest until she’s better. This results in him pushing for a proper diagnosis after the family GP fails to pinpoint the problem. Patronisingly, and a little too typically, Henriette’s fainting spells and nervous disposition are dismissed as “Women’s trouble”.
Another diagnosis swiftly follows when the Doc calls for a second opinion but this time it’s bad news. Henriette it turns out has a life-threatening tumour and overhears her husband being told she doesn’t have long left. Information like this tends to change a girl’s outlook and our heroine starts to rethink Heinrich’s offer.
At first he’s a little frosty about this turn of events, criticising her for not being in it for the right reasons. In short, Heinrich is a brat who wants everything his way. Who knew, eh? He relents in the end (obvs) and the two take off together on a trip to the country. Vogel btw is very pro-sabbatical, believing fresh air will do his poor wife good.
Heinrich carries a case containing two pistols (in case one doesn’t work) and explains to Henriette that he will shoot her before offing himself. It’s all very matter-of-fact but unfortch the plan is derailed when they bump into an old acquaintance of Heinrich’s. This dude assumes the two are lovers and Heinrich freaks the fuck out.
Back home and he decides to give Marie one last crack. She is freshly engaged and back from Paris where her beau resides. She cannot be convinced to give up her love and her life to Heinrich, funnily enough. While she agrees that life can be shit and people tiresome, she does not understand why Heinrich can’t just try to see the brighter side.
With all hope of turning Marie around lost, Heinrich once again places all his eggs in Henriette’s basket, persuading her to agree to the suicide pact again. Which she does.
Now, I’m parking this up here because I don’t want to spoil the ending completely. I’d like to leave you guessing as to how this pans out and what becomes of our central characters.
Well. You can’t accuse this film of being run of the mill, I suppose. The premise is bleak but I find Heinrich’s melancholia quite refreshing in some respects, and the tone too is dripping with malaise. I mean, Heinrich’s not my favourite and I find him extremely self-obsessed and irritating but his ability to be honest about his inertia is quite satisfying.
Nobody tries to talk him out of suicide either which I find interesting, and this says a lot about the characters themselves.
Now to the feminist standpoint. At one point, while talking to house guests (probably about new taxes being enforced across the country), Henriette says (I paraphrase) that she is there to obey and serve her husband. While nobody around her questions this, it does highlight the fact that Henriette does indeed inhabit a very traditional role within the household. She is also one half of a sexless marriage and although she and Vogel share a stable and content companionship, she does not have an awful lot of a say in an awful lot of her life.
So the suicide pact and her behaviour leading up to the film’s conclusion can be construed as evidence of her taking control of her own life. Finally some autonomy! And that’s powerful. Though whether it works out for Henriette is for you to find out.
I think this is a smart film that looks great, has some subtly amusing moments and takes a piece of history and gives it a quirky twist. I think it also has something to say about how easily women are let down by the medical profession, and how easily sickness is explained away by hysteria and women’s issues.
It won’t change my world view or necessarily stick in my memory for very long but it was nice while it lasted.
3/5. Quite fun for a film about a suicide pact.
What did Jillian think? Did this film make her question her own mortality or look to the bright side? Find out here. ❤