Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner, one of my favorite directors, was, as all her films are, a surprise, rising out of a quietly building plot whose ending punctuates a philosophic idea that plays out like a melodic line of a larger song. Framed in the simple Beidermeyer style of 1811 Berlin, again the question of ownership over a person and a person’s soul is the subtle subject of this film. The shadows cast by the French Revolution, Prussian militarism and Hapsburg conservatism, slavery, the emancipation of the peasants, the birth of the working poor and the place of women as the chattel of their husbands are embodied in the personal drama of a fragile soul and interpreted by society as a tragic love story when in truth it is the story of a woman worn down by the societal tyranny of her pre-Freudian society who perhaps, barely perceives her true self only at the end of the film’s trajectory.
The simplicity of the production design by Katharina Wöppermann,the production designer of Lourdes, Lovely Rita and Raúl Ruiz‘s Klimt as well, was discussed in an interview with Jessica Hausner posted on the Austrian Film Commission site : “And there was wallpaper, there were carpets that covered the floor of the whole room like fitted carpets. Our film is set in the Empire Period, that short time between 1810 and 1815 when people followed the model of ancient Greece. You can also see it in the clothes [by costume designer, Tanja Hausner, Jessica’s sister] with high waists and soft, flowing, light material. In terms of interior design, they used ancient columns, draped curtains and Greek landscapes painted on the walls. This was also connected with the philosophical ideal of antiquity. The patterns and colors don’t really develop until the Biedermeier period, but it all started at the beginning of the 19th century. Another interesting point is that heating, light and comfort were generally concentrated only in one living room, which is why people would sit around a table - five, six or more of them together, and they would hear what the other people were talking about. To a certain extent there was a different kind of privacy in those days.”
Jessica Hausner, an Austrian director and screenwriter is so lucky to have found in Philippe Bober, founder of The Coproduction Office, a kindred spirit whose patience and warm passion for developing projects fits perfectly with her sparse, introverted and deep examinations of souls whose human owners are not fully cognizant of them.
She has written and directed seven films since 1999 with Philippe Bober. Her first feature film Lovely Rita was developed with Philippe and screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Lourdes won the FIPRESCI and Signis Awards at its debut in Venice Film Festival 2009. Before that, she shot a couple of shorts and was a script girl in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games in 1997 and went on to write and direct her first 45 minute feature Inter-View which was developed at Cinefondation where it won an Honorable Mention in 1999.
Philippe Bober works with people with a distinctive signature. In a previous discussion we had , he claims that it takes 10 to 20 years before an “auteur” can create a name for herself or himself which carries a certain weight in terms of raising money and appealing to audiences. Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes, the most successful of her films began 12 years before its debut. He and Jessica have been working together since 1999.
Philippe’s job is to bring “auteurs” to audiences via sales and marketing. His work is to help them make decisions which will not compromise their art but will shape the films they want to make during scripting, casting and editing to be more accessible to audiences. One example of this pertains to the decision on casting to result in greater ticket sales. To do that one must know which past films made what box office numbers in which territory. There is no such recipe for scripting or editing in terms of making the message and story clearer to the audience without censuring the auteur. As he explains, sometimes this process takes two years and sometimes it can take up to 10 years.
Jessica Hausner shaped Amour Fou first around the idea of a double suicide, and then, in the course of her research, around the romantic poet, Heinrich von Kleist and his double suicide with Henriette Vogel.
Kleist subverted clichéd ideas of Romantic longing and themes of nature and innocence. He infused them with irony, taking up the subjective emotions and placing them into contextual paradox to show individuals in moments of crises and doubt, with both tragic and comic outcomes. As often as not, his dramatic and narrative situations end without resolution.
Hausner says, “His work is fascinating. I'm thinking particularly of the Marquise of O. It's an unfathomable story. Here I’m completely in agreement with Henriette's mother in my film, who says: ‘What an absurd idea, that a woman who is impregnated against her will by a man can come to love him in the end.’ That's a very male fantasy. And I think that's also what inspired my character of Kleist in the film. What kind of man could think up something like that? He'd have to be somebody who is very caught up in his own extremes, who doesn't step outside, and who can only accept extreme things.”
And so, after watching Amour Fou, we are left with the almost humorous unanswered question of what was Henriette thinking and about to say at the moment the trigger was released.