In the austere German import "Amour Fou," Heinrich von Kleist (Christian Friedel), a Romantic-era poet proclaiming to "suffer not from death but from life," asks upscale married musician Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink) to join him in a double suicide pact. There's a caveat: He wants Henriette to die because she loves him (which she doesn't) and not just because she herself may be suicidal (which she's not). Talk about an offer one can refuse.
However, when Henriette is diagnosed with a fatal tumor, she decides it might make more sense to die quickly with Heinrich, who proposes to shoot her first then whack himself, rather than suffer a more painful, lingering death. But can she actually leave her loyal husband (Stephan Grossmann) and beloved daughter (Paraschiva Dragus) behind that way?
A wavering path to Heinrich and Henriette's demise ensues. Despite being inspired by actual events, it all comes off more confounding than tragic or romantic.
That writer-director Jessica Hausner moves things along at such a glacial pace and fills her velvety frames with the equivalent of museum-quality oil paintings instead of with living, breathing humanity, only adds to the film's turgid quality.
Woven into this meticulously designed and shot tale are stabs at social and political irony reflective of the film's 1811 Berlin setting. Wry observations about love and death are also peppered in. But these do little to lighten the load or divert us in any meaningful way from that pesky issue at hand: double suicide.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. In German with subtitles.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.