Love Life

The award-winning Love Life, titled Stricken in Holland, is released in UK cinemas on December 3 2010.

It’s based on the autobiographical novel of bestselling Dutch author Ray Kluun. Entitled A Woman Goes to the Doctor, the original novel charts Kluun’s own fluctuating relationships with casual sex as his wife was diagnosed with cancer. For the non-dutch viewer, it’s important to recognise that Kluun and his wife have been treated in Holland as celebrities on a level with Posh and Becks. Everyone knows their story and its outcome. Everyone has read the book, everyone has seen the TV interviews and everyone has perused the social gossip columns. Every Dutch viewer already knows what happens at the end of Love Life – to them, this movie is closer to a biopic than a drama.

Watch the Love Life film trailer

Stijn is a big mover in the advertising world. He’s got a successful start-up company, friends who adore him and an understanding wife who shares his impetuous approach to life. Stijn is in the prime of his life, and also has the wealth and means to indulge in one of his favourite pastimes – regular casual sex with a procession of athletic dutch beauties, nightly sojourns easily hidden from the wife and daughter he genuinely adores. As a modern urban success story, Stijn is untouchable.

Things take a turn for the worse when Stijn’s wife Carmen goes to the doctor and gets diagnosed with cancer. While Carmen struggles with retaining her dignity in the face of chemotherapy, Stijn battles to resolve his deep-rooted and fierce love for his wife with escapism, denial and a sensualist’s addiction to life-affirming casual sex. It would be too easy to castigate Stijn – but the film avoids didactic tsk-tsking and encourages you to make your own judgement calls.

As you might expect in a film at least partially about sex and cancer, Love Life isn’t shy of nude scenes; they add to the film and shouldn’t particularly shock European audiences. How can we be sure that Stijn loves life if he isn’t prepared to strut through the waterlogged marshes buck naked and quacking like a duck, seeking his naked, long-legged prey lurking in the reeds beyond? On a dissonant note, it’s easier to know how Carmen feels about the malignant tumour in her breast if she actually looks at it now and then. Tit isn’t always titillating. The naked human body is a canvas on which a cinematographic artist can paint fragile watercolours as well as sensuous oils. Love Life, as the title suggests, posits that sex is a force of life and is one of the many ways in which a person can give death the stiff little finger. The Greeks had a term for it: ‘thanateros’, death and sex; so closely bound that, in the face of one, the other is more likely to rear its head, whether it’s during orgasm (‘the little death’) or during the death of a relationship (break-up sex) or indeed the passing away of a human being.

Involving, engaging, mature, playful on occasion, harrowing in parts – Love Life is one of the best foreign films this year – a passionately brave film about loving and living, a sensual discourse on fidelity, men and women (and idiots), cancer and personal integrity and “till death do us part”. For what it’s worth, it also has a great soundtrack.

In the Netherlands Love Life reached a major milestone. Within seven weeks of its theatrical release in 2009, the film received a Diamond Film Award for over a million tickets sold – the first Dutch feature to ever reach Diamond status in such a short time. You’ll come out of Love Life feeling that in two short hours you’ve experienced as much as anyone could. Embrace your inner Dutchman – embrace this film.

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