Charting the volatile trajectory of an irreconcilable relationship against the backdrop of countercultural Amsterdam, “Love Hurts” (aka “Heartrending”) channels electric lead performances into a seismic visitation of passion’s outer limits. Incisive sophomore feature from Mijke de Jong should forge a considerable rep for the Dutch femme helmer as it continues to travel the fest trail.
Repeatedly blurring the line separating love and hate, de Jong and co-scripter Jan Eilander piece together a forcefully persuasive, head-on examination of a couple in their mid-30s agonizing between undeniable love and insurmountable conflict.
Fringe dweller Lou (Marieke Heebink) juggles immigration rights activism with singing gigs. Her partner, Bob (Mark Rietman), is a lawyer in a small firm that jars with Lou’s scheme of social commitment. Disagreements are initially low-key. His yen for physical comfort clashes with her reluctance to give up or renovate her ramshackle houseboat. He wants children while she shies away from any compromise to her freedom.
But fractiousness skyrockets into virtual war as circumstances outside their relationship combine to increasingly threaten Lou’s security, and Bob retreats into his work. Gentrification of the docks area is steadily eating up her stomping ground; a refugee friend (Tanar Catalpinar) is drowned in a police skirmish; her HIV-positive singing partner (Andre-Arend Van Noord) starts pragmatically planning for death. Her unwelcome pregnancy further aggravates the rift.
What sets this tour of the romantic battlefield apart from commonplace love’s-a-bitch sagas is that nothing in the script or direction implies observation from an outside vantage point. Dramatic pyrotechnics and posturing speeches are rigorously avoided in favor of focused, unobtrusive direction that severs all distance from the couple via total immersion in their rocky rapport.
The story’s setting also smacks agreeably of an insider’s position, offering both a nostalgic salute to Amsterdam’s heyday as a libertarian paradise and a solemn acknowledgment of the inevitable changes inflicted by AIDS, racial tension and rampant development.
Joost Van Starrenburg’s edgy camera work admirably mirrors the up-close attitude shown elsewhere, crowding in on the actors like a second skin and unequivocally inviting in the audience. Menno Boerema’s tight editing shows similarly sharp alignment.
Perfs are refreshingly free from artifice. Neither Heebink nor Rietman has a false moment, and their fights really send out sparks, exploding in what often seems like spontaneous improvisation. Backup thesping is solid all round.