Komt Een Vrouw bij de Doktor

This book was first recommended to me by a friend. We're both working on learning Dutch and she was advised by a teacher to read the book by Ray Kluun in preparation for the film version which was just about to come out. When I lamented the fact that I needed to improve my reading skills, she recommended that I pick up the book.

At this point, she was quite a ways into the book and tried to sell me on it by telling me a bit about it. She said it was about a man who discovers that his wife has cancer and spends the remainder of her life screwing anything that moves. "He's a total d!@k, but you're really with him the whole time." Um, you're a great girl Katie and I really love ya and all but... no thanks!

But I kept the idea in the back of my mind. I then came across a summary of the English version of the book and began to think that maybe this was a story I could get into. So I went on a search for the book in Dutch... and found it nowhere! The book was so popular that copies were selling faster than flies on dung. I was unable to get my hands on a copy. When I finally did, the film was already out. No way I could finish the book in time, so I put it back on the shelf with the idea of reversing the order Katie's teacher had recommended: movie first, then book.

Up till now, I had never seen a film in Dutch. Kids shows I could handle, I totally owned BabyTV (in my defense, I was babysitting a 1-year-old), and my strongest link with Dutch was listening, but I highly doubted that I could make it through a full-length feature film and really get anything worthwhile out of it. Eventually, I found myself having to watch a Dutch movie in class. I loved it! So much so that I went out and bought my own copy right after class. Though I can't honestly say I understood everything, but I was never lost and felt really good about the experience. My excuse not to see Komt Een Vrouw Bij de Dokter would no longer hold.

It was off to the movies with two girlfriends. And here's what I thought:

This movie was the best I think I have ever seen. Gorgeous story, fabulously real characters, gut-wrenching topics and cinematography. I cried like I have never cried before at a movie (and I've cried at many a movie). As far as I could tell, there was no dry eye in the house when the film ended. Given the topic and the storyline, all this doesn't seem possible. But it is.

If you have not yet seen the film and want to wait to see it for yourself, stop reading now.

From the moment Carmen is diagnosed until Stijn gives Luna the final gift from her mother, you're with the characters all the way. The film directors in no way try to "protect" you from the emotional and physical pain of cancer. It doesn't leave out how people are changed by this experience and you feel the loss at the end just like the subjects in the film. These people are real. This experience is real. This story is real. It's exposed and raw and crude and so utterly human.

My god did I want to hate Stijn. Bedding anyone that would open her legs to him, taking off his wedding ring when it proved useful, and not hesitating to but his own libido before his wife and child. But I couldn't. I was actually sympathetic to this character. Though I knew it was morally wrong what he was doing, though I knew that my husband would wish his own death rather than feel my wrath should he take part in such indiscretions, though it tore me apart to think how this was hurting Carmen, I found myself - much to my shock and discomfort - understanding his actions. Agree? No. Understand? Yes. It's so easy to sit back and judge, thinking we would never do such a thing, but until you are put in such a situation, you have no idea. Throughout the film, he's Carmen's rock. But who is supposed to be his?

Watching this disease destroy their lives was painful. Watching them change and grow apart from each other and come to grips with death and loss was heartbreaking. You sit through every chemo session, you witness the clumps of hair tumbling from her head, you see her massacred body following her radiation treatments and the mastectomy, you may as well be the one to fetch the trash bin each time Carmen wretched. It was that close. It was that real. Even Roos, the other woman, was someone you felt for and wanted things to work out for. Even though you knew what had to happen for her to reach that point. And, unbelievably, never does the love between Carmen and Stijn falter.

It's a touchy, controversial subject and every inch of moral fiber goes out the window. This is a film that draws different emotions from each of it's viewers and this is only mine. I fully expect others to disagree and others still to come up with even still more and different interpretations of what they see when they witness this film. I would love to hear yours.

That's just the story. The acting was superb, the standouts being, of course Carice van Houten as Carmen and Barry Atsma (who is gor-ge-ous, by the way) as Stijn. Anna Drijver also does a wonderful job as Roos. I also really enjoyed Jeroen Willems' performance as Stijn's friend and business partner Frenk. There are some amazing actors in this film (good thing for Brad Pitt that Barry's not headed to Hollywood any time soon, and I'd take Carice over Cate Blanchette any day. Not to mention that fact that Anna Drijver could totally pass for Minnie Driver). Talk about dragging the audience along with the character and letting them see inside the characters' heads. Just amazing.

Cinematography is also stunning. The color, the lights, the angles. Especially in the club scenes with Stijn is the camera work just consuming. The hospital scenes are filmed with some sort of sterility that is so fittingly soul sucking.

It's been a few months since I saw the film, but I still see everything so vividly. I'm dying to watch it again. This is even one I think the echtgenoot (husband) would enjoy. And, of course, I'll be pulling that book back off the shelf! Echt niet te filmen? Dat denk ik niet!

The movie has only just come out on DVD and Blue Ray here in the Netherlands, though it is not yet available on Amazon. You can check out the film's site on the Internet Movie Database. If you're interested in the book, but have no desire to tackle the Dutch version, Kluun also has an English translation titled Love Life. Komt Een Vrouw Bij de Dokter translates to A Woman Goes to the Doctor.

Well, let's hear it. Have you seen this film? What did you think of the movie? Were you able to relate or sympathize? How many packs of tissues did you go through?