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aka Heart Street

D: Sanne Vogel / 86m

Cast: Marwan Kenzari, Bracha van Doesburgh, Nadia Koetje, Benja Bruijning, Tygo Gernandt, Egbert-Jan Weeber, Sieger Sloot, Susan Visser, Kitty Courbois, Frits Lambrechts, Georgina Verbaan, Gigi Ravelli, Terence Schreurs, Jan Koolijman, Stacey Rookhuizen

Daan (Kenzari) owns a delicatessen in Amsterdam’s Hartenstraat, where he lives with his eight year old daughter, Saar (Koetje). He and Saar’s mother, Inge (Rookhuizen), are divorced, and Saar wishes that Daan could find someone else to marry and be happy again. But Daan is too busy looking after Saar and his business to have time for dating – or so he tells himself. Meanwhile, two doors along, a new fashion shop is opened by Katje (van Doesburgh), a no-nonsense designer who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When she and Daan first meet it’s not a happy encounter for either of them, and a mutual dislike is born.

To get Daan back into the dating arena, his friend Bas (Gernandt) sets him up on an Internet dating website called Relationship Planet. Soon, Daan is corresponding with several interested women and setting up dates so he can meet them. His luck, however, appears to desert him with every date, as each woman he meets proves undesirable for one reason or another, until he meets Mara (Verbaan). But Mara has her own issues: a lack of anger management, and an overly aggressive approach to sex. When Daan doesn’t want to see her again she makes a scene in the street that is witnessed by Katje.

On the evening of the opening of Katje’s shop she’s surprised to see Daan providing the catering. They spar for the entire evening, but when she learns that he’s using Relationship Planet it sparks her interest. She pretends to be someone else and starts an online relationship with him. At first it’s meant as a joke, a way of amusing herself at Daan’s (unknowing) expense. But as they get to know each other, both begin to fall for the other. And while they continue to have an uneasy relationship offline, Saar has a part in easing the animosity they share when Katje designs a swan dress for her to wear at a national schools talk competition.

Eventually, Katje’s online alter ego plucks up the courage to agree to meet Daan, but when he learns she is the woman he has fallen in love with, he is angry at her duplicity and wants nothing further to do with her. Even when she later apologises to him, he refuses to forgive her. And then Saar goes missing on the morning of the competition…

Hartenstraat - scene

Hartenstraat is a movie that’s all about relationships: broken ones – Daan and Inge; prospective ones – Daan and Mara; unfulfilling ones – Katje and self-absorbed boyfriend Thomas (Bruijning); established ones – gay coffee shop owners Jacob (Sloot) and Rein (Weeber); burgeoning ones – Katje’s mother, Bep (Courbois) and Daan’s elderly friend Aart (Lambrechts); ambivalent ones – Daan and Katje; and anonymous ones – Daan and Katje’s online alter ego. Even Saar has her problems, telling her father she can’t choose between two boys at school. With all these varied relationships taking up so much of the movie’s running time, you could be forgiven that Hartenstraat would be a somewhat overly dramatic feature with maybe some acerbic things to say about the nature of love. But you’d be wrong.

Instead, the movie is an enjoyable, light-hearted look at the trials and tribulations, expectations and disappointments, hopes and fears, associated with contemporary relationships. It makes its points with a great deal of charm and steers away from the kind of plot contrivances that mar many other romantic comedies (even if the outcome is completely predictable from the start). It doesn’t have an axe to grind, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it features a clutch of winning performances that are ably directed by Vogel from Judith Goudsmit’s quirky screenplay.

But with all the attendant relationships given sufficient emphasis and focus, it’s still the connection between Daan and Katje that provides the most satisfaction. As played by Kenzari and van Doesburgh, the ways in which the pair spark off each other are delivered with such a sense of mutual fun that it’s hard not to be won over by them both (it helps that there’s a definite chemistry between them). Kenzari is the kind of actor whose soulful expression can speak volumes, while van Doesburgh has a subtle screen presence that the camera picks up on in every scene she’s in. As Daan and Katje circle round their feelings for each other, both actors take the opportunity to make the relationship entirely believable.

They’re supported by a talented cast of character actors led by Gernandt as the borderline obnoxious ladies’ man Bas (aka the Choker), and Verbaan as the hilariously psychotic Mara (who tells Daan at one point he needs “destroying”). Koetje is appropriately winsome as Saar; Weeber and Sloot flesh out Jacob and Rein to the extent that they’re not the stereotypical gay couple they first seem to be; and as Katje’s less than intellectual assistants, Schreurs and Ravelli make for an appealingly funny double act.

Indeed, the movie’s sense of humour is one of its plusses, a lot of it arising from the characters themselves and their personalities, while the dialogue is dotted with moments of genuine wit and some glorious put-downs. Vogel – who also appears as Daan’s first date, Annabel – keeps things from getting too dramatic (which is to the movie’s advantage) and uses this to seduce the viewer into becoming invested in the various relationships and their outcomes. She’s aided by Ezra Reverda’s sterling camerawork, and a clever opening title sequence by Derk Elshof, Benno Nieuwstraten and Sietse van den Broek that features cast and crew names as part of the street’s window displays.

Rating: 8/10 – although there are times when Hartenstraat seems impossibly lightweight and seems to invite ridicule for its approach to its own storyline, nevertheless it’s a carefree, hugely enjoyable piece of “fluff”; full to the brim with moments that bring a smile to the viewer’s face, it’s the very epitome of a pleasant distraction.