Directed by Jessica Hausner
Cornerhouse, 15 February 2015
When Heinrich, middling poet and minor aristocrat, proposes a suicide pact, one woman demurs while another is a reluctant taker. You get the sense that if he’d had two refusals, he would have asked a third woman.
It is an interesting film, loosely following events in the last year of Kleist’s life. Here he’s a poet who is out of tune with his age, an age of great social change. (Kleist wrote little or no poetry, as far as I know, and his story The Marquise of O- is here described as a poem.) Peasants are being given the vote, aristocrats are about to be taxed. Heinrich is self-absorbed, precious about his feelings. His mother is cutting his allowance, which threatens his livelihood and his sense of himself.
If Kleist is the presiding figure, one can also detect the influence of Schnitzler’s Dying (a novella written in light of the suicide craze in Vienna following Crown Prince Rudolph’s death); hardly surprising, perhaps, since Hausner is Austrian. With Schnitzler she shares as well an analytical, almost a forensic interest in human behaviour. She is a director who would dissect these people if she could, you feel.
Are these people spurred on by mysterious passions? Not likely, they are automata, puppets in a puppet theatre – which is what one character describes herself as feeling like. Incidentally, one wonders whether and how Kleist’s essay on the puppet theatre influenced the look of the film and the way the actors approached it.
An anti-romantic film, but one I could easily watch again, with renewed interest.