Taboo has always made for good swearing material. With dirty English tongues, we talk about intercourse, illegitimacy and naughty bits. Generally rather liberal in their attitudes to sex yet troubled by disease, the Dutch have made ‘Kanker’ their profanity of choice.
This sense of taboo and offensiveness is played on throughout Love Life as cancer shatters the pretty world fashioned by Stijn and Carmen, successful newlyweds who both work in advertising. The young couple have got where they are by appreciating and perpetuating the aesthetic. It is beauty that draws Stijn to Carmen. It is beauty that gives her the confidence to stay with him, despite his infidelity. Acting in opposition to this, is Carmen’s ‘ugly’ breast cancer. The confidence that binds them is revealed to be only a preserve of the beautiful and the promise to remain true for better or for worse is tested again and again.
But this is a story of not just Carmen’s fears, but also of Stijn’s. This is where the film’s strengths lie. Commendable in that it works to present a chain of suffering, Love Life delves into discussions of sexual anxiety once a lover becomes diagnosed with cancer. The way in which the film balances Stijn’s penchant for extramarital sex with Carmen’s undesirable sickly qualities may be uncomfortable, yet it shows the complications of relationships and they ways in which taboos map themselves out in culture. Love Life plays on the boundary between sexuality and horror with a surprising degree of sensitivity, expressing a husband’s anxiety without cheapening the work.