Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stricken (Komt Een Vrouw Bij De Dokter)

Care Giving

It's a film made in 2009, but what it tried to address as a sub plot was miles better than what Love Cuts did through an entire film, with a better cast, direction, and of course, budget. Stricken is a Dutch film directed by Reinout Oerlmans, based on a novel by Raymond van de Kulndert, that deals with romance, sickness and mortality all rolled into one, firm in its focus on the principle characters whom you'd probably see shades of someone in your circle, and is about life's journey that everyone will have to go through.

When we're young, the world is our oyster and the sky's the limit. There's this feeling of invincibility that nothing can touch us, and that we're infallible. That is until Fate almost always know how to throw a curve ball at us, so that we and others around us will get to learn some lessons, eat humble pie, and start to seriously look at what we're doing with our lives. Stijn (Barry Atsma) is a high flying advertising executive who meets an equally career minded superwoman in Carmen (Carice van Houten) with whom he falls instantly in love with. They soon get married after a whirlwind romance, and life's looking pretty good with their venturing out on their own, and becoming their own boss. Until Carmen gets a lump in her breast that's deemed malignant.

For the first third of the film, told in chapters, it recounts what countless of breast cancer patients had already gone through, and as such turns in to be quite instructive, with a peek into how the Dutch medical system handles the chemotherapy, radiation treatment and the option of amputation. The shock in its discovery, denial, acceptance, and to live life with a condition, is what van Houten, a wonderful actress, aces in her role of Carmen, now a wife and mother to a toddler, trying to live a life of normalcy while battling the dreaded disease. Support comes from her husband in accompanying her to the doctor's, chauffeuring her around and such. But there's a problem that she's well aware of - his infidelity, and in what would be mentioned in fairly crude terms, he's a boob man, and so lies the insecurities and fear of not being a complete woman to prevent her husband from straying.

What she doesn't know is of the extent of his infidelity, which is only privy to Stijn's best friends who cover his tracks for him, and us the audience. Again it makes you wonder what marriage vows are for and if they're worth any weight in gold, and what truly hammers it home is that while one can provide physical support by being around when needed, or even to the point of scooting off whenever opportunity presents itself, what would really matter in any closed one's time of need, is emotional availability. And this is sometihng that can be sensed whether you are conscious of it or otherwise. Sensed by the person suffering, and adding a bit of unnecessary stress and worry. Anyone who had provided care and been a primary care giver before, will know the hardships associated with being there for someone, and sometimes battling the need for a little time off.

Which in Stijn's case, that time off from the wife meant having to go get laid, beginning a more serious affair with painter Roos (Anna Drijver) whom he meets at the club in an annual festival, finally mustering the courage not to accept a friendly smile, but demanding something more. It's easy to condemn Stijn as a character since we can all cast rocks at his adulterous behaviour, but I guess for cinematic reasons Drijver could be here just for eye candy reasons. What I felt was this being a personification of anything that's to distract us from doing what's necessary, since anything out of routine, together with gratification obtained, would surely beat the dreadedness in caring for the sick.

Stricken catches itself and gets its act together for the emotional, final half hour, after plenty of dalliances between the different love affairs, and for Stijn to finally wake up through a round-about fashion. While van Houten may be the bigger name on the marquee thanks to films like Black Book and Valkyrie that were released here, Barry Atsma held his own opposite van Houten, and we feel the pain felt by both characters as they manuever around the disease which start to wreck havoc in their lives. And this is truly an experience nobody would like to go through, with questions, insecurities and escapism rolled out against a spectrum of emotions accurately captured and portrayed by the actors, with an ending that will surprise, though not uncommon depending on the laws of the land.

Rated R21 here for the countless of nudity scenes from van Houten, Drijver and countless of other faceless females that Stijn can't seem to get enough of, and one bloody harrowing scene where a female clubber dances, strips, and then proceeds to rip her breast off in one sweeping motion. Bound to give anyone some nightmares for its degree of gore.

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