Dutch Junkies does a neat job of capturing something of the feelings of addiction: jonesing and the fix. The bipartite documentary is almost exactly about what you'd think; Emoticons looks at young Dutch women nominally addicted to the Internet, while There Goes My Heart chronicles a few of Holland's oldest drug addicts. From an addict's point of view (in this case we'll assume addiction to documentaries) the Dutch Junkies blend keeps its fix in the second half, while the first half leaves the viewer jonesing.
Emoticons is a kind of grim, sometimes creepy and often depressing slog through a phenomenon that certainly exists, but bears only a glancing similarity to what's presented. Six women ranging in age from 14-years-old to middle age tell stories of finding solace and companionship in online relationships. Central to each woman's story is emotional pain - one is teased mercilessly at school, one is a rape victim, and one lost her mother to breast cancer, for example. All find something missing from their in-person relationships, compassion and understanding mostly, but all are able to discover some level of fulfillment online.
Doleful interviews of the traditional sort, and also in the form of filmed web-cam chats, comprise most of Emoticons. There's hardly a scrap of music, and many interviewees are allowed ample time to ramble (I'm going to hell to be this petty) in morose, syrupy voices, with lots of dead air in amongst the angst-filled words. Stretches of time are even occasionally employed to watch people simply tapping away at keyboards. It's enervating viewing to say the least.
Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann ultimately wrings a sense of hope out of her arid scenarios, most happily from the heartbreaking story of the girl bullied at school. But it's cold comfort from a blandly presented set of oft-times bland stories. It's also a far cry from detailing real Internet addiction, of the hours, days and relationships lost to the modem - only bullied Saskia betrays any overuse of the medium, and she's a bullied teen, so what do you expect? These women generally use the tool to find a way for healing, and most all of them go on to meet their online friends in real life (IRL for you addicts reading this). Put callously, if watching a slow moving, sometimes creepy, airless, music-less documentary about depressed teenagers writing poetry online depicts Internet addiction, then I'm jonesing for something more fulfilling, and I need a fix.
Luckily the second half of this documentary, There Goes My Heart (directed by co-producer John Appel) gets it right. Appel's wistful vignettes of elderly Dutch heroin addicts contain the fix we need: actual junkies, engaging editing, gorgeous music, humor and beautifully tragic stories.
At the world's first retirement home for aging addicts a small group of elderly folks live in languid pathos. With ages ranging from 53 to 68, this story's characters push the notion of what a senior citizen is, but while shakily cooking heroin in their tiny rooms, they are most definitely Dutch Junkies. Appel crafts a sly, gently revealing documentary that foregoes most documentary clichés. Super-graphics reveal names and ages unobtrusively, but for the most part cameras are just on, with astute editing pulling portraits like wispy trails of blood into a syringe. One-on-one interviews seem hardly there; mostly our seniors appear simply to regale each other in shambolic monologues, (as druggies are often wont to do) allowing fragments of their lives to appear naturally. Subjects do address the camera with specifics, in answer to unheard queries from Appel, yet as these bits are woven into snippets of the daily drama of the home, the result is a lyrical, transparent window into several souls damaged or drugged beyond compare.
Appel captures humor and sorrow in equal measure. A 58-year-old addict named Carmel (and self-proclaimed schizophrenic with multiple personalities) is a tragicomic personage reminiscent of Bette Davis crossed with PJ Harvey. Her tempestuous power to alienate herself from everyone while drawing them all together mimics the camaraderie found among drug buddies, and a tirade during which she switches randomly from Dutch to English and back is fascinating and disturbing.
A number of things make the nut for Appel; sonorous music, stories gripping as only addict's stories are, and editing that perfectly matches the subject. Drawn out shots of shaky hands blindly searching a paper for drug scraps coolly hypnotize before quickly cutting to images of that first hit and delicious rush. Fond, measured takes of a roguish junkie shuffling down a narrow hallway while Nat King Cole croons on the soundtrack are a lilting coda for those living lives long lost.
The pair of stories in Dutch Junkies couldn't be more diametrically opposed. Honigmann's Emoticons uses the notion of Internet chat-room addiction to outline ultimately hopeful tales of women finding connections and healing online. A dry, somnolent atmosphere makes it mostly unrewarding viewing that leaves you aching for something more. That something is John Appel's There Goes My Heart, which provides a touching look at the shattered lives of a handful of aging Dutch heroin addicts living in a group home. Appel's subtle, artful direction reveals a fondness for the human heart and its foibles, rewarding viewers with realistic poignancy and sentimentality. Honigmann's work is a text message, Appel's, more like a song.