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Blogging from San Sebastian September 17-25, 2021

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This is Love - a film review from San Sebastian

Some films just make me feel stupid. I generally am not a fan of this.

20 minutes into This is Love, I still had no real idea what was going on, or even who the main character was supposed to be. I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out… was the director going to pull a “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!” on me? How did these two characters connect? What in God’s name was going on?

Let me backtrack a moment: This is Love is a German film that begins by introducing a woman who, sixteen years ago just as the Berlin Wall has fallen, comes home to find that her husband had left. Sixteen years later, she has never been able to find him again. The woman turns to alcohol and becomes estranged from her daughter, spending most of her time with an older man, drinking and sleeping together. Later, we find out that this woman is also a cop, and she is currently investigating a case involving a man who had been working as a sort of middle man, buying underage Vietnamese prostitutes from their pimps and selling them to black market adoptive parents: the man ran his car into a sixteen-wheeler and was taken in for questioning with regards to one particular girl who he stole from her pimp when he didn’t have any money. As the story progresses, we move back and forth between flashbacks from the man’s life with this little girl and the woman’s life in the present as she continues down her spiral into alcoholism.

Both stories are interesting in their own right—the man’s perhaps more so than the woman’s, which is just depressing with very few redeeming qualities.

The entire time I was sitting in the cinema, though, one thought kept passing through my mind: “What does one have to do with the other?”
The key lies in the title: This is Love. Neither character has a storybook love story to tell: the woman’s life has been completely devoid of love for sixteen years. At one point, she even considers whether she might actually be dead, whether she even exists anymore. Meanwhile, the man has no relationships with his parents, with friends, with a woman: all that exists for him is this little girl of about ten years old, a little girl who has been raised to manipulate men into loving her. This is love?

Well, yes. The woman finds out over the course of the film that her husband only left her because a co-worker fell in love with her and told her husband about an affair that did not actually exist. Out of love for her, the co-worker forced the man she loved to leave her, and out of love for the same woman, this man left without saying a word. This is love.

The man loves the Vietnamese girl like a daughter and repeatedly bloodies the faces of those who think of her differently. He tries to protect her, and, in one very sweet moment, even tells her “Ich liebe dich,” as she learns to speak German. He is ready to send himself to prison for her safety, telling her they will never see one another again, and she says goodbye in the only way that she knows how: the coarse reality of the situation as this ten-year-old former child prostitute reaches for his belt and undoes it Is off-putting but strangely sweet: this is wrong, as he tells her earlier in the film, very, very wrong, but this is love.

The end is bittersweet: the man and child are reunited when he finally caves and tells the police officer where she has been. The woman’s daughter has married; the woman has learned that her ex-husband has still been being a father to their daughter the whole time, even as he believed that she was happily with another man. She has told the co-worker that his feelings are not reciprocated, thus ending the charade once and for all. She knows that she was loved, even if she never felt it.

This is love, and it’s not what it seems to be. It’s the feeling we get at the beginning of the film, as the woman begins to tell us her story and then effectively tells us that there is more, that this is not the whole truth. It’s the feeling that we get as the end, as a man holds the hand of a ten-year-old girl, a girl who looks young and naïve enough to be his daughter but who we know holds a much different place in his heart and his story. It’s a roundabout way of making a point, but lovely to watch, especially for Lisa Nguyen, who does an incredible job as the little Vietnamese girl who steals the heart of a middle-aged German man.


- Emily Monaco

Fifth Row, Left Side


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About SanSebastian

Barreda de Biurrun Inés

Blogging from the 69th San Sebastian Film Festival
Reporting by Inés Barreda de Biurrun and Bruno Chatelin.

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