We begin with Variety‘s Justin Chang: “An event that could hardly be described as a laughing matter somehow yields a dryly amusing and characteristically layered reflection on the absurdity of what humans call love in Amour fou, Jessica Hausner’s slow-building portrait of the German Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist [Christian Friedel] and his friend Henriette Vogel [Birte Schnöink], and the fateful steps and decisions that precipitated their 1811 suicide pact. A master of tonal and thematic ambiguity who deals in spare, meticulously composed tableaux, the Austrian writer-director gradually locates the emotional pulse in a picture that plays less like a doomed romance than a seriocomic anatomy of one, subjecting its characters and their bubble of high privilege to sharply critical yet quietly affecting scrutiny.”
“Hausner, whose rigorous, radically feminist films like Hotel (2004) and Lourdes (2009) seem equally derived from Chantal Akerman and Stanley Kubrick, recognizes the comic possibilities—intentional and otherwise—of the scenario.” Time Out‘s Keith Uhlich: “It takes some time to get acclimated to Heinrich’s gloomy pronouncements (‘Would you like to die with me?’ he wonders, as if inquiring about the weather), as well as to the literal stiffness of the performers…. That tension actually works to Amour fou’s advantage, drawing you in the more you submit to Hausner’s chilly rhythms.”
The AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd notes that Heinrich “sees nothing unreasonable about his request, which makes the movie a comic jab at a certain breed of persistent creep—the self-described romantic who wears down his conquest with guilt trips and melodrama, but whose love is really just a reflection of his own narcissism…. What’s troubling is the ambivalence expressed by Henriette; Hausner never quite penetrates the motivation of her manipulated heroine—though that was true of Lourdes, too, so maybe that’s her M.O.”
For the Hollywood Reporter‘s Boyd van Hoeij, “the superbly staged and edited final moments of Heinrich and Henriette emphasize exactly what the two characters were trying to avoid by committing suicide together. What’s finally tragic about their destiny of choice is not that the couple succeeded in becoming immortal together but that everything leading up to their death was the result of very banal actions and shot through with an extreme sense of loneliness.”
At Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier notes that “beyond this plot dominated by psychological subtlety, the film also reproduces with surprising precision the customs of the Prussian bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 19th century, which comes to life thanks to the remarkable sets and costumes. The great talent of director of photography Martin Gschlacht and the pictorial sense of the composition of Jessica Hauner’s shots, in particular her mastery of depth of field, give the film a magnificent sense of stylised realism which makes Amour fou an accomplished work of art.”
“You could be observing a gallery of paintings from the period,” suggests Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. For Nikola Grozdanovic, writing at Indiewire, “Amour Fou is a delightful comedy of errors and acidic analysis of love’s remarkable talent for idiocy.”
Viewing (5’58”). Arte’s Olivier Père (and former head of Directors’ Fortnight) interviews Hausner; the brief introduction’s in French, but the conversation itself is in English.
Update, 5/18: “Katharina Woepermann’s eye-popping production design is so meticulous as to take 19th-century drawing-room decor into a realm of science fiction,” writes Guy Lodge at In Contention: “the film’s interiors boast enough densely patterned wallpaper, sculpted velvet drapery and finely dovetailed secret doors to make even Wes Anderson’s eyes pop…. Hausner’s taste for austere, extreme artifice could seem an airless affectation in a less thoughtful film, but makes complete sense in a story so fixated on social geometry. Von Kleist has designed his life no less lovingly or carefully than these gracious parlors have been, so cannot understand why his desire for mortal control is deemed so unseemly. The blossoming of understanding between him and Vogel—that to live and let live is equally to live and let die—is at once sad and peculiarly joyful; rarely in romantic comedy are the stakes so high, and the touch so correspondingly light.”
Updates, 5/19: “The disjunction between the gravity of their plan and the casualness with which they discuss it is bleakly funny at first,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve, “but quickly becomes repetitive, and the film as a whole is so predicated on their blasé indifference to life that a corresponding indifference seems the only rational response.”
“Hausner reveals her strongest work yet, a droll, romantic exploration of sorts that manages to expertly blend her unique tone with exquisite digital compositions,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.
Update, 5/21: “The Austrian director’s sixth film is ecstatically original,” writes Peter Labuza at the Film Stage, “a work of film-history-philosophy with a digital-cinema palette of acutely crafted compositions. Amour fou seamlessly blends together the paintings of Vermeer, the acting of Bresson, and the psychological undercurrents of a Dostoevsky novel. It is an intensely thrilling work that manages to combine a passionately dispassionate love story of the highest order with a larger socio-historical examination of a new era of freedom, and the tragedy beset by those trapped in its enclosed world.”
Updates, 5/22: “The pleasures yielded by Amour fou are essentially those of observing a perfectly executed miniature,” writes Nick Roddick for Sight & Sound. “Hausner’s main achievement—both formally, in her precise, often painterly compositions, and narratively, in the film’s minuet-like rhythms—is to provide a way for a modern audience to understand the romantic death wish, which comes across as intense and banal at the same time, and which has re-emerged in the 21st century (although Hausner draws no such parallels) in the phenomenon of the suicide bomber.”
“Maybe there’s a bit much pianoforte practice, but standout performances from luminous Schnoink and pouty stuffed shirt Friedel buoy the proceedings,” writes Budd Wilkins at the House Next Door.