[L’amour est un chien d’enfer]
Reviewed By-Kit Gavin Directed by: Dominique Deruddere Starring: Josse De Pauw, Geert Hunaerts, Michael Pas and An Van Essche Source: Mondo Macabro [United States] DVD NTSC Region 0
1955: Harry Voss [Hunaerts], a impressionable pre-pubescent youngster, who enjoys going to the movies, as well as being sexually frustrated and on the verge of puberty, has fallen in love with a beautiful actress who plays a princess in the black and white film he goes to see at the local movie-house. He steals a lobby card with Princess’ likeness from the foyer to keep as an object of fantasy to keep at home. Also Harry has romantic notions and outlook on life, believing from stories told him by his mother that his father to be a hero who kidnapped her, wooed and married her on a mountain peak. He then sets about trying to discover his sexual identity. With the assistance of another, somewhat older male friend, Stan [Pas], who tells him about how people don’t marry for love but to enjoy "fucking", he learns about women (seeing a nudie pic of Stan’s), about sex and about the relief of masturbation. Along the way, Stan tries to initiate his friend with the prospect of carnal knowledge, unsuccessfully, first with a local attractive woman at a funfair, having turned down the advances of a younger girl on one of the rides.
Watching two women wrestlers and learning further from Stan about this world of which he knows so little, he is given a kiss by an Italian woman. He later finds out that the woman turns out to be the mother of his classmates. Nonetheless he and Stan sneek into her house and watch her slumbering on the bed. Harry, goaded on by Stan attempt to mount the woman on the bed, but understandably she freaks out. Both boys flee, and Stan advises Harry on the ways and hows of masturbation.
1962: Some years later, Harry [De Pauw] is graduating from his high school.
He has his eyes on the prize winning, and prettiest, student called Liza Vilani [Van Essche] there. As well as being as sexually frustrated as he was in the earlier segment of the film, a decade later, he has been afflicted with one of the worst case of acne ever, with his face and body covered in countless sores and spots. Initially reluctant to attend, one of Harry’s closest friends encourages Harry to attend the Graduation Night Dance. Harry makes an advance initially on Liza but unfortunately loses his nerve when another student steps in. However Harry’s friend, determined his friend should lose his virginity tries to fix him up with a girl, Marina, after he has had his way with her. However Marina is disgusted by the sight of Harry’s acne, unable to get intimate with him.
With the song "Love Hurts" (a most appropriate choice) being sung, and having wrapped his face masked in lavatory paper so that only his mouth and eyes poke out, Harry invites the pretty blonde to dance. Initially amused and endeared by Harry’s request for a dance, and after which her date tries to dismiss Harry, derisively calling him "Frankenstein", she accepts his offer to dance and the two of them dance slowly to the music. Having danced with Liza, Harry flees into the night, somehow feeling rejected despite Liza having accepted his invitation to dance.
1976: Following on from his lack of success at finding love at high school, the film jumps forward a further decade and a half and finds Harry, lonely, destitute and a drunk who hangs around in bars with his only friend , another sad soul called Bill. His emotions and sexual desires still lying dormant, repressed from his adolescence, they are suddenly awakened one night. Bill and Harry discover and steal the dead body of a beautiful woman from a van from the morgue whilst heavily intoxicated by alcohol. Harry then proceeds to fornicate with the still warm corpse. He then sobers up suddenly and announces to his friend that he is in love with the dead girl. Bill reluctantly agrees to participate in a makeshift marriage ceremony on the beach between Harry and the dead girl.
Initially the project started out with the intention of being another short for the director entitled Foggy Night but which was expanded into the feature film in three "acts" that is Crazy Love. The third and final part of the film was intended as a stand alone feature, so although the first two "chapters" or "segments" of the film are in essence add-ons the film holds out and remains strong making the feature feel seemless and complete. However seeing the potential in the material which had been made into a film, the Belgian film makers flew to the United States to discuss with Bukowski the possibility of making their short into a full length film, which was met with delight by the writer, even so much as Bukowski professing his belief that the writers had improved upon his initial writing and vision.
Starting out as initially a somewhat sweet and touching coming of age tale concerning the "hero" Harry Voss and the cards which he has been dealt in life allows for his character and life to develop but to descend into something of a downward spiral of tragedy by the time he reaches his early 30’s. In essence the film covers three nights over two decades in Harry Voss’ life in his quest for love and for ultimate sexual fulfilment. The concept and idea of the film seems bleak and depressing, however it is well presented and quirky, visually attractive and realised with great visual scope by it’s director and turns out to sensitive and touching. The film has some true moments of arthouse sensibility akin to some of the best directors out there with moments of poetic dreaminess and eroticism. This is juxtapositioned with an eerie gothic fog shrouded atmosphere pervading the final segment of the film. Also there are truly memorable images, such as that of Harry at the dance, his face wrapped in lavatory paper dancing with Love Hurts playing. The ending too will divide the viewer, is it uplifting or is it a truly depressing nadir to Harry’s existence shown on screen? The ending is that ambiguous and thought provoking.
The film here is such an unusual and interesting project and works on many different levels. It is well written with strong, believable and sympathetic characters, in particular the lead character of Harry Voss, played with intelligence and sensitivity by the two actors, with De Pauw’s performance played most convincingly as the acne-clad adolescent and then when the viewer finds him in his early 30’s in the final third of the film. The rest of the cast are also mostly unknowns [one of the slightly familiar faces is Gene Bervoets from The Vanishing] outside of their home country of Belgium yet all perform extremely well. The film has been very loosely based on a short story by Charles Bukowski entitled "The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, CA", and the feeling and mood of Bukowski’s unusual writing and popularist lowlife philosophies can be found throughout the filmic narrative.
Direction by the young director in his first feature length movie after a series of shorts starting in the mid 70’s is extremely professional, sensitive and thoughtful, yet at the same time avant-garde and stylistic in approach. Working on this project with Deruddere were some of Belgium’s foremost professionals in cinema, and it all comes together extremely well, giving the film an upmarket sheen and gloss which the film is most deserving of. There are moments of extremity which punctuate the movie at points, yet these are never shown in crude, explicit detail and tend to be implied, and left to the imagination of the viewer.
Crazy Love might seem an unusual addition to Mondo Macabro’s already eclectic (mostly horror) catalog of films on release, which have included Indonesian action movies, Italian gialli, low budget Americana and a Pakistani vampire movie. All of these films have had an edge of being either horror or exploitation related. Crazy Love falls into neither of those two categories. By no means is it trash cinema, horror and most definitely isn’t exploitation by any stretch of the imagination. The
film certainly would not fall into an easily discernable category of genre cinema. Yet the film is a wonderful experience, intelligent and thought provoking, as much as being quite wild and offbeat, and beneath it’s surface lies quite a dark film. With that in mind, and considering Mondo Macabro is trying to encompass all sorts of the unusual into their release schedule, this one is definitely worth picking up and comes most highly recommended.
The film is given the anamorphic widescreen presentation, in it’s correct aspect ratio of 1:66:1 and is an extremely pleasing to the eye presentation all round. Grain is barely discernable (if at all), and seems to be intentional, throughout the film and there seems to be no print damage to the film. Colors are rich, fresh and natural, and the print is beautiful and clean. The audio track is equally good, presented in Stereo, clear, crisp and fresh with no distortion of any sort. The (removable) subtitles on the film and the accompanying features are clear and do not impose on the viewing.
The extras start off with a Belgian documentary entitled "The Crazy Love Archives", narrated in Flemish and with English subtitles throughout. The documentary is presented with the director, Deruddere, and a large number of his collaborators, behind and in front of the camera, discussing the film in their native Flemish with keenness and enthusiasm. There are also excerpts and clips taken from Deruddere’s earlier film shorts as well. One of the most interesting stories comes from the star of the film, who was aged 33 when the film was made, yet manages to convince in his role of the 19 year old Harry in the second segment, as well as playing the 33 year old Harry in the last. This interesting documentary also includes selected behind the scenes footage from the film. As well as this, there is also footage of acclaimed writer Bukowski arriving in Belgium, travelling to meet the director and later on waxing lyrical with his philosophies on life and people.
As well as this documentary, also included is a recent interview, with the likeable director Deruddere speaking in good clear English (who was nominated for an Oscar® three years later). Here the director talks with complete honesty and candor covering all sides to the creation of this wonderful little film; from his initial meetings and chats with Charles Bukowski, the acne effects worn by De Pauw, critical response to the film, and some hilarious behind the scenes stories and sources of inspiration, other than Bukowski, for the end film.
Both features are perfect and valuable additions to the main film giving out much information and fascinating facts about it’s production. Rounding off the journey into Belgian cinema is a well penned essay covering the broad scope of this country’s little known cinema fantastique’s history, written in an easily accessible tome once again by Mondo Macabro’s frontman and author Pete Tombs. Finally there is a showreel for other releases in the Mondo Macabro library.
Once again Mondo Macabro have delivered a truly excellent release of a truly excellent film. The cover initially piqued my interest, with the bizarre looking image of what appeared to be a man wrapped in bandages with a blonde girl, and text emblazoned across the cover with a comparison between this film and that of David Lynch’s seminal masterpiece Eraserhead. As well as this the cover reports that the film is based on the works of Bukowski. Bukowski and Lynch, two most offbeat personalities, I had to give the film a look in any which case, and I am really glad that I did. To be fair, the film will not be for everyone, and some may be (foolishly) dissuaded by the film being presented in it’s native Flemish (it has never been dubbed into English), but this release shows the width of the net which Pete Tombs’ and Andy Starke’s DVD distribution house has cast in order to glean numerous oddities and neglected films for their catalog. Anyone who appreciates differing aspects and genres of world cinema should enjoy. Crazy Love is such a richly textured film, it is quite amazing that it had pretty much vanished and not seen further coverage and release since it’s initial outing in the late 1980’s despite receiving good notices at the time and received critical pundits and praise from the film world at the time. Offbeat, outlandish, intelligent and eclectic to say the least, this film comes highly recommended to those who appreciate quality arthouse cinema at it’s best and/or most unusual and visionary.
A real undiscovered, neglected gem of a movie, presented in an excellent, nicely packaged complete DVD release – don’t miss out on picking out on this engaging film and broaden your horizons. Highly recommended, one of the best DVDs I have seen so far this year!
Story: 4.5 BITCH SLAPS Audio: 4.5 BITCH SLAPS Video: 4.5 BITCH SLAPS Extras: 4 BITCH SLAPS Overall: 4.5 BITCH SLAPS
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