Dutch Junkies (review)

Here in one package are two just-under-feature-length documentaries about the face of modern addiction. Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann’s “Emoticons” turns the stereotype of Internet addicts as primarily male on its head, introducing us to a diverse group of teenaged girls and young women who cling to the Net as a lifeline of friendship. We meet a 14-year-old girl who is bullied mercilessly at school but forges positive allegiances online; an Algerian 10th grader seeking political asylum; a 17-year-old rape victim who has turned her experience around as a way to help younger girls find answers to their questions about sex; and others who are coping with illness, loneliness, family strife, or all of the above. Honigmann isn’t judgmental, though, except, perhaps, toward us and the knee-jerk reactions of some to those who seek community online. Are these girls truly disconnected, the film asks, or do we need to redefine what constitutes healthy connectedness? Then follows John Appel’s “There Goes My Heart,” a look inside a home for elderly drug addicts, long-term users of hard drugs who are intractably addicted who now, at least, have a safe haven after a life on streets at the premature end of their lives. While both films are Dutch, the girls of “Emoticons” and their lives will resonate with American and other Western viewers, but it’s hard to imagine anyplace like this home for addicts ever existing in the prohibitionist U.S., particularly when you learn that the residents here are supplied with the drugs that allow them to continue using. Not that “Heart” is suggesting heroin be passed around like candy; in fact, because Appel’s subjects are speaking to him from a place of security and relative wellbeing, the film can offer an unusually honest perspective on the ravages of lifelong drug abuse. Some of Appel’s subjects are clearly mentally ill — though whether that’s a cause or an effect of their abusing their bodies isn’t clear — but some are simply terribly pathetic in their delusions that they will ever recover to lead healthy lives. (DVD extras are limited to text bios of the directors.)

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