Dominique Deruddere’s CRAZY LOVE is one of those off-beat arthouse movies that defies categorisation yet remains essential material for UNRATED readers with its eclectic combination of black humour and sexual deviance that unfurls as we follow a luckless protagonist on a painful journey of erotic dalliances over the course of twenty years.
The film begins in 1955 where we are first introduced to twelve-year old Harry Voss (Geert Hunaerts) who sits captivated by the sight of a silver screen princess (Florence Béliard) gracing his local cinema in a historical romance. The blonde haired actress represents the woman of Harry’s dreams, beautiful, young, ageless and dressed in virginal white.
Upon arriving home Harry questions his mother (Karen Van Parijs) about her early romance with his father, realising that Harry is keen to elevate his parentage to “fairytale” like status, she regales him with a fanciful tale of their courtship, which Harry takes to be true.
Later that night Harry and his older friend, Stan (Michaël Pas), visit a carnival where Harry’s innocent view of the opposite sex is shattered when Stan tries to initiate the younger boy into the delights of sex. Coy Harry’s first encounter with a teenage girl who apparently enjoys entertaining any boy who expresses an interest, results in her berating him for his inexperience and leaves him apprehensive of girls. Determined to rectify the situation, Stan and Harry follow home feisty Gina (Carmela Locantore), the mother of one of Harry’s classmates, who they initially spy being groped and fondled at a female wrestling match. The intrepid sex seekers steal into Gina’s house as she sleeps, and Harry is encouraged to mount her still frame. Gina awakes screaming, much to the dismay of both boys who retreat to an outside pond to cool their unappeased passions. Stan later introduces Harry to masturbation as an alternative relief, which leaves Harry disillusioned with the entire process of lovemaking. After Harry has spied his mother and father loudly making love he asks her, why she lied to him? And is told that she didn’t want to dispel his illusions of love.
Seven years later, and 19-year old Harry (Josse de Pauw) is suffering from Acne conglobata, a severe skin disease that covers his body in horrible lesions that cause him to shun public engagements. Jeff (Gene Bervoets), a fellow student, encourages Harry to attend the college prom. When Harry spies beautiful blonde, Liza Velani (Anne Van Essche), a woman whom he has constantly daydreamed and secretly dedicated poetry to, he summons up the courage to ask her to dance. But before she can react, they are interrupted by her boyfriend, who smirks at Harry’s disfigurement and whisks Liza off to the dancefloor. This sets in motion a series of odd incidents that culminate in further embarrassment for Harry.
Years of rejection and humiliation have led to Harry becoming disillusioned with relationships and he is a homeless alcoholic. Aged 33, he wanders streets and bars letching at women who seem nauseated at his behaviour. A chance meeting with another former friend and hellraiser called Bill (Amid Chakir) in a nightclub leads the duo to take part in their most daring activity yet: the robbery of a corpse from a parked hearse: an act of “crazy love” that will ultimately serve as retribution for the years of rejection Harry has suffered at the hands of society.
Loosley based upon a short story by legendary Beat author and poet Charles Bukowsky entitled "The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, CA.", this beautiful film, meticulously shot by DoP Willy Stassen and featuring an array of scenery ranging from luscious green Belgium countryside hamlets to the shadow laden streets of Brussels by night, comes across with a dream-like intensity due to Stassen incorporating soft focus and introducing bright yellow lighting to convey the fairy-like story of its lovelorn protagonist and the quest for the princess of his dreams. Visual elements conveying the theme of love are embedded throughout the film as we are first introduced to the fantasy fairytale featuring knight and princess in the cinema screen opening, photographs of loving couples decorate Harry’s home, lovers frolic on tunnel of love fairground rides, feisty Gina lies in a “Sleeping Beauty” like state in a cottage straight out of the Brothers Grimm, and a neon Eros points his arrow in the direction of a pink painted nightclub, where sailors and polka dot dress darlings cavort to the likes of “Take Good Care Of My Baby”.
Blended into this bright pink and yellow hued depiction of innocent love, are several bizarre, fetishized motifs that depict Harry’s outsider world-view, and mask, both physically and metaphorically, Harry’s fear and fascination for the objects of his desire. Early at the fairground-wrestling tent, Harry’s attention is drawn to the displayed breasts of a female cat-fighter who wears a leather face mask in order to hide her emotions and identity as she squares up to an opponent in the ring. This scene foreshadows the college prom scene in which a 19-year old Harry, with face covered in acne scars, shamefully wraps his head up in toilet paper in order to pluck up the courage to square up to his male ‘opponent’, to vie for the attention of Liza Velani in the dance ‘ring’.
Further foreshadowing involves Harry’s love interests resembling fantasised "sleeping beauties"; lying dormant, or sitting lifelessly. From his early dalliance with the young fairground floosy, the sleeping form of Gina, the reclining body of Jeff’s loose girlfriend (who lies in anticipation of a second bout of sex from a nervous Harry having previously serviced her lover), to the reposing form of Harry’s final love.
These cold depictions of estranged love are encapsulated by their settings, invariably consummated within the sleazy confines of vehicles, be they fairground car rides, car park rendezvous points, or stolen from hearses. The car, then, can be viewed as a metaphor to signify Harry’s isolation, and serves as his prison; shame and human shell. Harry’s escape can only be attained by removing himself from the confines of the man-made world, and with one act of retribution befitting of both fairytale ending and Bukowskian symbolism, our anti-hero with princess in arms, finally attains escape to his dreamworld.
CRAZY LOVE’s performances are inspiring. Young Geert Hunaerts convinces in a role demanding emotions conveying confusion, dissolution, and innocent sexual awakening without words. Equally fascinating is Josse de Pauw who pulls off the unenviable task of playing Harry at both 19 and 33, a feat that required the star to lose several stone, an act that the actor jokingly refers to, in a supplementary documentary, as being far harder than gaining weight; something that the critics praised lavishly when De Nero piled on the flab for the role of Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL.
Poetical and perverse by turn, CRAZY LOVE is one of those rare delights that only a European filmmaker could come up trumps with, it truly ought to be seen by a wider audience and whilst my reviews of their product have a habit of repeating the same superlatives, Mondo Macabro are to be congratulated for sourcing this cinematic masterpiece. If you enjoy watching the kind of films that this site promotes you’ll be enthralled with CRAZY LOVE.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Dominique Deruddere
Flemish Language with optional English Subtitles / Belgium / 1987 / 87 Minutes / Colour
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Mondo Macabro DVD Release
All Region NTSC / Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital mono