As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Weekend Double Feature: All is Love, Actually

Posted by Hedwig on May 19, 2008

I promise, the rash of girly posts will come to an end, soon. But if the Filmspotting guys can review Love, Actually and admit they kind of liked it, and if it then airs on TV on a night I have a friend over and nothing else to do…who am I to still refuse to watch it? And then, the next night, why not watch the Dutch movie inspired by it, Alles is Liefde ?

I don’t like many romantic comedies, and mosaic films are touch and go: I love the concept, but it’s tricky to pull of. Understand, then, that for me to say I liked (if not loved) Love, Actually isn’t faint praise. I like the slightly wistful, yet playful mood it retains throughout. It jumps back and forth with agility between the many stories and relationships, and you’ve got to admire it’s formal construction, for instance how the opening monologue is reflected by the end scene.

I also admire how broad a spectrum of love it encompasses…which immediately brings me to one of the few complaints I have: if you’re going to have all kinds of relationships, from budding ones to long established ones, from romantic relationships to love between siblings, parents and children, friends, why not also include romantic love between two people of the same sex? I don’t mind that most rom-coms are about straight relationships – after all, a majority of the audience is straight as well, and there are plenty of niche films to cater to the rest. But in a film with so many couples, would it really have been such a stretch to include this as well?

Of course, as in all mosaic films, some stories work better than others. Unexpectedly, I found myself liking the rather silly Hugh Grant-as-the-prime-minister story, especially since the girl he falls for is so delightfully crude – but why does everyone keep calling her fat? I thought the Martin Freeman story was nicely understated. It made me wonder though, do the makers of porn movies care so much about lighting that they use stand-ins? Among those I liked less was the Colin Firth story: I for one don’t quite see the romance in falling for someone you can’t even communicate with.

All in all though, the piling of cliché upon cliché is so extreme that it somehow makes them more acceptable, even charming: of course the little boy has to do the corny last-minute airport run! And in the end, it’s oddly satisfying that relationships are, for once, shown as a continuing struggle rather than a neat arc concluded with a kiss or a wedding. Some of the stories are left unresolved, and others we come into having missed a great deal: it feels like we just see a slice of these people’s lives rather than THE pivotal moment in it, and that’s refreshing.

Love, Actually is centered around Christmas. It makes sense, then, that the Dutch movie inspired by it, Alles is Liefde (All is Love/Love is All) centers around Sinterklaas. And I have to immediately acknowledge a bias here: I’ve never cared much for Christmas, but Sinterklaas is by far my favorite holiday. I won’t explain the particulars here, but there’s a short (and rather politically incorrect) explanation in the movie.

Here also we meet a wide assortment of people. One couple is separated after the man cheated. The wife’s father, who played Sinterklaas, dies. A strange man, just arrived from Madrid, takes his place, but gives the part a rather odd twist. The husband in another couple loses his job, but doesn’t tell his wife. A gay couple is about to be married, but one of them, who works in a funeral home, is disconnected from the world after his mother’s death, and has doubts. And finally, in the central, most ludicrous story, a real-life Prince (he’s even called Valentijn) falls for a girl (played by Carice van Houten, who I know some of my readers adore) who works at the biggest department store in Amsterdam. Of course, she’s the one girl who doesn’t immediately admits to falling for his charms.

I loved this movie, despite its flaws. I guess it’s largely because I can’t resist the Sinterklaas-vibe: every tradition is present here, and while every aspect is lovingly presented, it’s also skewered just enough. The stories are much more predictable than in Love, Actually (my friend Sabrine, who I watched this with, predicted a major final act revelation about 30 minutes in), more sappy in places, and here almost every story line is revolved very neatly… but like Love, Actually, it’s a movie that doesn’t hide that love it flawed: the prince is kind of a ass and probably won’t change that much, sometimes people cheat, and sometimes people hurt the ones they love most. The message – verbalized a bit too explicitly – is that love is not about what happens in the end. It’s about what happens in the meantime.

I’m not sure I’d recommend Alles is Liefde to a foreigner. It’s probably too rooted in Dutch culture and folklore to be understandable, and many aspects of Sinterklaas can easily be misunderstood – something that’s pointed out in the film as well. But for Carice van Houten fans, it might be worth checking out, and if someone not familiar with the Netherlands sees it, please let me know what you thought.

Love, Actually is very British, and Alles is Liefde is very Dutch. Love, though, is a pretty universal feeling, which explains why there’s so many movies about it. You could do a lot worse (much, much worse) than these two.

6 Responses to “Weekend Double Feature: All is Love, Actually”

  1. Just wanted to say I really don’t like Christmas at all so I’m always happy to find someone else not taken with it either. I dread that day every year. December 26th is one of the best days of the year for me because it’s the longest possible time before another Christmas must be endured.

    And now I’d like to see Alles is Liefde. It’s sounds like an interesting movie – actually. Unfortunately, Netflix here does not carry it. Too bad.

  2. Daniel said

    I’ve only seen the first one here, but I remember many of its positive aspects that you point out. If nobody’s looking, I’ll even admit I became a little emotional when the kid’s playing the drums and the girl is singing “All I Want for Christmas” – the reason guys might admit to liking this movie is because we all know what it’s like to be that kid with the impossible crush on the popular girl.

  3. Kaj said

    Regarding Love Actually: I liked the Beatles wedding bit… but that’s about it. I don’t see how a gigantic pile of clichés makes the individual ones more acceptable. I found Love Actually neither to be romantic nor funny (maybe a bit in the beginning, but the fun left early in the game), and that’s quite deadly for a romantic comedy.

  4. sarcastig said

    Actually, I don’t think Love is meant to be that romantic, perse, and I agree that great chunks of it are not. It’s about love in all it’s forms, including the non-romantic type, and I think it manages to capture it relatively well – more so than most traditional rom-coms, which consists basically of the different roadblocks until the perfect kiss/wedding.

    I think it’s interesting that you like the Beatles-bit, because in a more traditional rom-com, that would have been the triumphant, feel-good endpiece. Here, however, we see what happens AFTER the wedding, and we see that things are never as simple as 1+1 = 2.

  5. Agreed Daniel, and I can admit that I enjoyed the film too, as a whole.

  6. I haven’t seen either film so I should pro’ly just butt out, but that’s not my style.

    The last romantic comedy I saw was Definitely, Maybe which I think came from the same producers as Love Actually. Though normally the genre isn’t my cup of tea, I admit I fell for DM. It was a little unconventional and had a trio of good female performances by winning actresses. Recommended for people who go for that kind of thing and even those who don’t. Not a perfect movie, but perfectly likeable.

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