European Union Film Festival 2011: Stricken is more than a Love Story potboiler

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Directed by Reinout Oerlemans. At the European Union Film Festival, at Pacific Cinematheque on Thursday, December 8, 8:10 p.m. In Dutch with English subtitles.

A beautiful young woman is devoured by cancer. Her doting husband lavishes care and support, but he also happens to maintain a separate life of compulsive infidelity. Sounds tricky, doesn’t it? Such is the moral universe presented in Reinout Oerlemans’ Stricken, a critical and box-office smash from the Netherlands coming to the EU Film Festival on Thursday night (December 8).

Because he also loves her profoundly, Carmen continues to tolerate Stijn’s wandering cock just like she did before her hair fell out, her breast was removed, and the cancer that obliterates her identity as a woman marched onward and inward. But only up to a point. When Stijn’s fling with an artist stops being meaningless, she finally puts her foot down.

There’s no easy way out for any of the characters in Stricken. The visual excitement mustered by first-time director Oerlemans puts a glib patina on some of the film’s harder questions, however, while Barry Atsma exerts enough charm to maintain our sympathy for Stijn when the natural inclination is to take arms against him. Especially set against Carice Van Houten’s luminous, heartbreaking performance as Carmen.

The film is actually based on the true story of Dutch celebrity couple Ray and Judith Kluun, which—above and beyond its considerable virtues as a movie—no doubt accounts for its wild success at home. For us it might seem like more of an amped-up, Love Story potboiler. But it’s definitely a riveting one.

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