The Dutch series ‘Modern Love Amsterdam’ shows love in all its facets

What is love? In a new series, different Dutch filmmakers answer this simple and at the same time complicated question in their own way. The six separate episodes provide a varied picture, where there is a lot of room for less traditional forms of love and pain points in a relationship. One is about a couple in an open relationship, another about whether or not they want children. Modern Love Amsterdam is a spin-off of an American series that is itself based on the famous essay column of New York Times where true stories of love and relationships are written down.

The Dutch version is directed by Robert Alberdingk Thijm, who previously gave the city of Amsterdam a starring role in the series Adam – EVA. The series, which can be seen on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, also makes room for things that can change or put pressure on a relationship. For example, the episode ‘Keep Me Vast’ is about a couple whose husband has become disabled. Can he and his wife make it? The characters Simon and Katja are played by Romijn Conen and Rifka Lodeizen respectively. Their episode feels authentic, partly because the same thing happened to Conen as his character: he became semi-disabled after a stroke in 2015. “I didn’t think it was possible for a long time that I would really take on a role again,” says Conen in a hotel in Amsterdam. Together with Lodeizen, he speaks NRC about creation.

Work with constraints

Doubts about whether he could pull it off quickly disappeared after an improvisation session with Lodeizen and director Boudewijn Koole. However, the production had to take sufficient account of its limitation. “He can still play great,” says Lodeizen. “But we had to make room for it. For example, he had to rest every now and then.” Conen: “The boundaries have gradually been moved because I increasingly got the feeling that it is actually a piece of cake for me as an actor.”

The story in the series is not his own, but it contains personal elements. The same applies to accepting or not accepting the new situation. His character is faster than himself in this, Conen admits. “He thinks faster than I do in my day-to-day life.” Lodeizen: “And you find it harder in real life?” Cone: “Yes. Every day you experience things that you used to be able to solve very easily. And now you can’t fix it. You need help.”

In the episode, the couple talk about intimacy. For example, Simon tells his wife that he understands if she wants to find someone who could better meet her sexual needs. “When it comes to love, don’t shy away from the pain,” says Lodeizen. “Many stories revolve around the places where it rubs when it comes to intimacy. In the end, it’s not about the disability at all, it’s about how you fight through love together.”

Rifka Lodeizen plays the lawyer Katja in the series ‘Modern Love Amsterdam’.
Photo Elmer van der Marel

Both actors hope that the episode will raise awareness: People with disabilities are seen far too little in films and television, they say. Lodeizen: “They simply do not see themselves represented. It’s a bad thing. We are leaving something behind if we don’t do something about it.” Conen only learned that after his own situation. “It is still the case that the casting agencies almost do not want to cooperate with me, because they have not seen whether I can handle it at all. I think that will change after the launch of this series. I hope people think: damn, he’s just doing it for a while’.

Mother’s feelings

The episode with actresses Hanna van Vliet and Ilke Paddenburg also overlaps with real life. The two play a couple in the episode, something they have been in real life for eight years. “We were also asked to audition as a duo,” says Van Vliet during a conversation in a café-restaurant in Amsterdam. “It felt a little strange, but also very nice. You don’t feel the kind of discomfort that you would otherwise have at an audition like this.”

The episode touches on whether or not you have motherly feelings, something that has a different dimension for a lesbian couple than for a straight couple. However, the series does not make a big deal out of the queer relationship. “It’s not about them being lesbians,” says Paddenburg, who joined Van Vliet to talk about the episode. “That aspect of their relationship is not problematic. It’s just the way it is.” Van Vliet adds: “It’s also true inclusion. You can be very specific about certain things, but not everything is about their identity.” The by Maud Wiemeijer (Anne+) written episode also has a magical realism element: Paddenburg plays a writer who goes to live and work for a while in the former home of a famous writer. She seems to have traveled to the fifties at one point. From that moment on, the line between fantasy and reality blurs. Paddenburg: “It was exciting to find a balance here. We don’t often do something like this in the Netherlands, also because the budget is often small. We do it in a fairly clear way. It is best not to question that layer of fantasy. It is a kind of fever dream in which she finds herself, an outward appearance of an inner conflict.”

New possibilities

The two actresses are part of a bigger thing: a spin-off of an American series from the Amazon technology company. On the 16th of December Modern Love Amsterdam launched worldwide (Amazon is talking about more than 240 countries and territories). Van Vliet is the leading actress and co-creator of Anne+ ever experienced anything like it. Anne+ started as a web series on NPO, managed to bind a large group of viewers and appeared all over the world via Netflix. “With such a large American streaming service, you feel that there are many more layers, more than we are used to here in the Netherlands,” she says. “It offers new opportunities, but also challenges. How big should something be? The bigger you get, the harder it is sometimes to defend your own choices.”

In addition to Amazon and Netflix, streaming services such as Disney+ and HBO Max are also working on Dutch productions. Foreign companies competing with Dutch parties such as NPO and RTL (Videoland). “On the one hand, there seem to be more options than ever,” continues Van Vliet. “But there is also a discussion about what foreign streamers are doing on the Dutch market. Are they just hiring crew and actors or are they really investing in the industry?”

At least the main characters are happy about this project for Amazon. Paddenburg sometimes felt like Alice in Wonderland while filming in the old writer’s house. “Isn’t it a childhood dream coming true? Just ends up in a completely different world.”

Modern Love Amsterdam can be seen on Prime Video from Friday 16 December.

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