This week is brought to you by aristocratic dogs, Romantic poetry, and rich people who hate democracy and paying taxes. Period drama + social commentary? I’m in.
Where to Watch:
A German Romantic poet just wants to find a nice young woman who will agree to die with him. Not a euphemism.
The Uncondensed Version:
The setting is early 19th century Berlin, and a small group of aristocrats are all abuzz that a famous Romantic poet will soon be in their midst. This poet is Heinrich von Kleist, melancholy, melodramatic pursuer of love who fancies himself extremely attuned to the emotional states of others. Or rather, desperate to find a kindred spirit to enter into a murder-suicide pact with him. Whoa, dude. You’ve got to start out with some polite small talk first.
Heinrich’s ideal partner is his cousin Marie, but she’s not ready to die young for love. Go figure.
A rather distant second arrives in the form of Henriette, the wife of one of Heinrich’s acquaintances. Based on my limited experiences with 19th century period dramas, apparently the only form of entertainment was standing around someone’s drawing room while a member of your crowd signs and/or plays the piano. If this was really what a good time looked like back in the day, no wonder Heinrich wanted to blow his brains out. (Sorry. Ish.) My rather roundabout point here is that Henriette has a nice singing voice and likes Heinrich’s poetry, both of which are qualities he admires immensely.
Meanwhile, with the French Revolution fresh in the minds of German aristocrats, the topic on everyone’s mind is the horror of taxes, democracy, and rights for peasants. Heinrich is in favor of being free and doomed—no surprise there.
After getting to know Henriette for maybe a week or so, Heinrich decides to make his rather unconventional proposal to die with him instead of living with her husband, daughter, and mother. Henriette rejects him but seems interested in the idea, even though his speech comes complete with unconvincing logic about the nature of love and absence of real love in Henriette’s life. Because it’s not real love unless you’d kill yourself and/or others…? Sorry, romantic ballads of the ‘80s, but I’m not buying it.
Rather conveniently for Heinrich, Henriette becomes seriously ill shortly after all of this. After receiving a total BS diagnosis of a “spiritual ailment,” it’s eventually clear that she has an inoperable tumor that is killing her. Finally ready to die with Heinrich, Henriette asks if his offer still stands and he changes his goddamn mind because he doesn’t think her motives are pure enough. For fuck’s sake, dude.
It should be mentioned that Henriette’s husband is quite sweet through all of this. He basically tells her to leave him for another man if that will make her happy in her last days, and he never stops trying to find a trendy cure in Paris.
You can easily look up the true story if you want to know what happens in the end. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a particularly happy one.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I thought this would be a comedy for some reason…and there is the occasional bleakly funny scenario, but it’s overall a serious, melancholy film. I like the completely unromantic take on Romanticism and unsentimental period drama this is. Heinrich was the absolute worst, and I couldn’t help realize this must have been exactly what it was like to talk to me as a teenager. I do like the Romantics, but it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything even remotely ordinary if they were thinking about love, death, and King Arthur’s court as much as they did in their poetry.
There’s no sense that the filmmakers approve of the romantic determination to live fast, die young. It’s actually quite pathetic to die so young for love, and it doesn’t feel like it’s truly an act of love to ask that of another person.
It also seems pretty absurd that Heinrich feels he’s taking control of his life by ending it, which is highlighted in a moment when he struggles with a gun that’s out of bullets. Henriette’s decision to die is based on avoiding a prolonged painful death, but it’s clear from the beginning no one is going to find a peaceful death by slowly sailing off into the mist like it’s LOTR (sorry/not sorry, Christa). Death is death, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how it happens.
Happy Feminist February?