A wonderful lead perf by Dutch actress Renee Soutendijk gives substance and accessibility to “Life Is the Main Thing,” a relationship drama about a thirtysomething single mother coming to terms with a mastectomy. Pic sidesteps both artiness and sheer commerciality for a realistic, but also warm and often funny, tone that could give it small-scale commercial potential in some Euro territories.
Dutch-born Corinna de Jong (Soutendijk) is a 38-year-old fashion illustrator living in Berlin with two daughters, a satisfying sex life and a career that engages her. When she’s dumped by her lover and suddenly has her right breast removed due to a malignant tumor, she begins to doubt her attractiveness to the opposite sex, and her life in general.
An easygoing new neighbor (Huub Stapel) offers the possibility of a romantic liaison, and a longtime friend (Hans-Werner Meyer) presses her to marry him to provide a secure home for the children. Corinna vacillates between the two, all the while determined to fight the debilitating psychological effects of the operation.
Storyline is hardly new, and its characters are basically schematic, but helmer/co-writer Connie Walther, in her sophomore outing after the interesting “The First Time” (1996), refuses to let the film descend into an old-style feminist tract or a soupy melodrama. Relationships are all fully drawn and the characters fresh and believable, with no simple villains.
Stapel is especially good as the handsome neighbor who’s ready for sex on Corinna’s terms, but it’s the performance by Soutendijk, an actress who gets better and better with age, that powers the heart and soul of the picture, free of maudlin self-pity and never grandstanding its heroine’s quiet gutsiness.
Frank Griebe’s lensing uses a rich color palette while steering clear of glossiness, and other tech credits are pro. Pic originally aired on German TV, where it drew good notices.