Rotterdam 2017 Review: IT HURTS SO MUCH Is A Gentle Documentary About Care

Heleen van Rooyen has made a solid documentary about dementia, pain and caring for infirm elderly.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2017 Review: IT HURTS SO MUCH Is A Gentle Documentary About Care
Let me start this review by stating for the non-Dutch people that Heleen van Royen is a bit of an icon in the Netherlands. She is a successful writer of novels, and as a columnist she is (in)famous for not mincing words, and being open about sexuality and her lifestyle. Her candid prose has won her fans and enemies, and even caused the downfall of a politician who didn't count on Heleen re-telling (in public) some stories he told her (in private).
Judging by who you talk to she is a feminist, a literary genius, a bitch, or an attention-seeking whore. Me, I haven't read anything by her yet, and only notice her whenever she is in the news again, with items as diverse as winning another literary prize, having a novel adapted to film, or posing for Playboy together with her (then) husband.

So when I saw she had made a documentary about taking care of her infirm mother, I have to admit I had some initial doubts about the whole affair. Then again, with Heleen being herself, you could be assured she'd be brutally honest and not leave anything out, providing a unique view on the proceedings.

To my surprise, It Hurts So Much turned out to be a pleasantly subdued affair, a respectfully made document about one year in the relation between a mother and daughter. At the start of the film Mrs Breed still lives by herself in her own apartment, but she suffers from vascular dementia, meaning her brain doesn't always get the right amount of blood, often making her confused. She also suffers, a LOT, from a worn-out hip joint, an excruciating affliction which has her chanting "It-hurts-so-much, it-hurts-so-much, it-hurts-so-much", whenever she moves.

Heleen is obviously troubled by seeing her mother degenerate on a daily basis and decides to take action, convincing Mrs Breed to move out of the apartment and into care. Heleen also starts making a video diary, charting her mother's troubles with help, revalidation, medication, and her afflictions.

Helped by editor Mirei Franssen, the comprised end result of this video diary is this film, and it is a very good one. Heartwarming yet unsentimental, it shows the increasing dependency of Mrs Breed on others, and how both women come to terms with that.

Thankfully it's not an indictment of healthcare in the Netherlands. While never in a perfect situation, Heleen and Mrs Breed don't need to care too much about spend, and live in a country where you generally don't need to spend too much on care. It helps that Heleen's mother, while occasionally exasperated, never truly grows mean-spirited, and obviously loves her daughter much. I've seen horror stories happen in my circle of acquaintances, where elderly people regress into hostile children who turn violent, or do nothing but blame, blame, blame all day, and thankfully for Heleen that's not what happens here.

While Mrs Breed only grows older and more infirm, the documentary manages to be a positive one. While there is plenty of pain shown on both sides, the film is speckled with moments of dry humour and honest feeling.
The audience at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (me included) loved It Hurts So Much and awarded it with a whopping high rating of 4.6 out of 5, making it end in the second place of the fest's Audience Award.

(It Hurts So Much will be in general release in the Netherlands from the 23rd of February onward. Incredible Films has picked up the film for international sales.)
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