Friday, March 02, 2007

Crazy Love (Deruddere, 1987)

There’s really only one explanation for the fact that Belgian director, Dominique Deruddere’s debut feature (based on the writings of Charles Bukowski) is not remembered fondly as one of the 1980’s great statements on the painful awkwardness of adolescence and budding sexuality. It is because the film builds to an act that is so taboo that it seems unimaginable that it actually occurs in the real world. And yet it must, for how else would we have a word for it? It is an act that has caused Crazy Love to be released in a DVD package that trumpets the film’s credentials as a piece of bizarro cinema, comparing it to David Lynch’s Eraserhead. And yet, in truth, the film is not schlocky or surreal, neither exploitative nor extreme. Apart from some comically disturbing acne makeup, Crazy Love is surprisingly restrained and tender considering its subject matter. Make no mistake: it is certainly frank in regards to sexuality. However, it is not a cynical film, taking as its protagonist a man who is a romantic at heart despite the intense resistance he finds in reality.

When we first see Harry Voss, the year is 1955 and he is in the cinema watching a film in which a prince and princess head off towards a fairy tale ending. The impact is so great on the twelve-year-old boy that he steals a promotional movie still from the theater’s display case and takes it home with him. His older friend, more knowledgeable about sex, is unimpressed noting that the couple in the picture still has their clothes on. In the film’s first thirty minutes, we see young Harry come to the disheartening realization that physical attraction in the real world bears little resemblance to what he sees in the movies. His father is not a handsome prince, but rather a gruff looking, overweight man who snores loudly on the couch. His parents do not exchange passionate kisses bathed in a heavenly glow. On the contrary, they grunt and sweat under the covers in a fashion that seems decidedly utilitarian. His older friend, willing to instruct him in the ways of human sexuality, takes him to a nearby carnival to gaze upon female wrestlers and drunken lovers. The setting for this portion of the film is noteworthy as young Harry comes to consider human sexuality to be something of a grotesquerie. He takes in as much information as he can, hoping eventually to discover the beauty that lies underneath. By the end of the film’s first section, Harry is a little bit wiser about the world that surrounds him. However, he is not necessarily happier because of it, his naïve joy transformed into reluctant acquiescence.

The film’s middle section takes place later in Harry life, on the night of his senior prom. Still a romantic at heart and a practicing poet, Harry is cursed with a case of acne so bad that it nearly qualifies as a physical deformity. With a wicked sense of humor, Deruddere has pushed a common teenage affliction into the realm of the absurd. Little children stare on the bus in amazement. Harry’s female classmates recoil in disgust. Although the blemishes more closely resemble a new strain of the plague than something out of a Noxzema commercial, his doctor instructs him to be patient and let nature take its course. But for Harry, that is precisely the problem. Nature has taken its course and caused him to be intensely attracted to a beautiful girl that, in realistic terms, he cannot ever approach. He has composed poetry, using the letters of her name as inspiration and yet the thought of asking her for a dance fills him with horror. This may seem like familiar territory for a teen comedy; however, what separates Deruddere’s film from something more typical is not only his gift for black comedy, but how he demonstrates the way that these moments of intense social awkwardness can define us for a lifetime. Even when Harry is able to attain a small victory, he must do so through a desperate and heart-breaking act of self-parody.

Be warned: other reviewers will reveal openly what occurs in the final section of Crazy Love where we see Harry as a drunken outcast, rapidly approaching middle age. Personally, I am of the opinion that this development is best left for viewers to discover and experience within the flow of the film. I will, however, suggest that this section is effective at accomplishing much more than a cheap shock. It is the culmination of a narrative that suggests that the way we behave as adults is indicative of the way we are able to transition from youthful idealism to something more pragmatic. As Harry’s mother tells him, there are still beautiful things in life, even if they fall well short of our wildest fantasies. When we last see Harry, he is still stubbornly clinging to a notion of purity and romance that has long since died. We see that he has never successfully assimilated into a world that is decidedly imperfect and think to ourselves that it is no wonder that so many great poets have imploded so early in their lives. Don’t let the bland title or sensationalized marketing fool you. Crazy Love is a highly watchable film of great sensitivity, a seemingly forgotten gem of 1980’s world cinema.



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