Extramarital workouts are the only thing keeping the hubby of a cancer-stricken Dutchwoman sane in the flashily directed “A Woman Goes to the Doctor.” With Barry Atsma as the libidinous lead and Carice van Houten (“Black Book,” “Valkyrie”) in another attention-grabbing perf as the two-timed, terminally ill woman, this adaptation of local bestseller “Love Life” has been breaking Dutch B.O. records since its late November bow. Though decidedly showy, shallow and very European — much like its male protag — the pic could be a conversation-starter at fests and in Euro niche play.
Helmer Reinout Oerlemans started in the early ’90s as an actor in the Low Countries’ first daily soap before transitioning to TV and film production with his company Eyeworks. His directorial debut is a film about marital infidelity in the face of death — or rather, the death of a spouse — in which the form is reflective of its central protag.
Hunky Atsma (“The Storm”) plays Stijn, a successful ad exec in his early 30s with a beautiful wife, Carmen (van Houten), and little daughter. “My heart belongs to Carmen,” he says in v.o., “but other women can also enjoy the rest of me.” When, 10 minutes in, their shared paradise is lost with the discovery of Carmen’s breast cancer, their bond both deepens and becomes more problematic. Stijn finds it hard to deal with the daily pressure of having an ill wife who requires constant attention and unconditional love.
The original semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Kluun is told from Stijn’s p.o.v. and contains hundreds of “wramples,” written samples of previously existing material (often song lyrics). Inserted in the text in the way a musician would use samples, they create a savvy pop-collage voice that turns Stijn into something more than just a quick-witted, amoral horndog. (Film’s ironic English title, which sounds like the start of a joke, translates the novel’s original Dutch title.)
Probably realizing this literary effect would be difficult to re-create on screen, Oerlemans and scripter Gert Embrechts have turned Stijn into a colder, more self-enamored advertising yuppie. The film now looks like one of Stijn’s commercials: slick, smoothly shot (with loads of helicopter shots), kinetically edited and scored. It’s also somewhat superficial, despite the countless disease-of-the-week moments caused by Carmen’s ever-worsening condition.
Conservative viewers may find it hard to relate to Stijn once he finds some solace in the arms of a beautiful painter, Roos (Anna Drijver, beautiful but under-used). Their numerous sack sessions recharge Stijn with the energy needed to confront his daily battles with Carmen’s hair loss, countless hospital visits and tendency to throw up in the middle of the night.
Despite Atsma’s convincing perf, van Houten often steals the show, delivering some of the pic’s best lines with an increasingly biting cynicism. Pic’s love triangle of sorts isn’t helped by the fact that Roos is only barely developed.