BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: the odd couple.

THE Wellington Film Society kicked off with a special preview screening of a film about to hit general release. And it was one helluva freakshow. It’s hard to get into plot details of this American documentary without revealing too much of its main narrative thrust. Needless to say, if you intend on watching this, frankly, headshakingly bizarre relationship play out, try and do as little research beforehand. If you haven’t heard of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss, then Crazy Love is a compelling recreation of their life-paths. However, I wouldn’t recommend this film to would-be psychopaths trying to get a girl/boy’s attention.

That said, it’s hard not to escape the sense that we’re laughing at these “weirdos”. Crazy Love is composed of talking head interviews and the occasional archival footage (including images of Burt Pugach sporting the worst goatee in human history), and the protagonists themselves get to sell their own story. The cod-psychology at the start and the lack of insight into why Linda Riss changed her mind (the loneliness angle was compelling and reasonable, but a little rushed, but maybe it would have too hard to try – but the film seemed to wallow in the sensationalism a bit too much prior to this) did little to add much empathy to the proceedings. Pugach’s friends came across as misogynistic and racist, while Riss’s friends, while much nicer, seemed to offer little in explaining her motivations. It’s hard to like Pugach at all, and his continued chutzpah is off-putting. Perhaps the structure of the film might have affected this – far less time was spent on the events of the last thirty years than it was on the early part of their relationship, and this was crucial in giving any sort of redemption to the proceedings. (Admittedly, 1959 is the key point.). However, it is entirely possible that someone else will be able to watch this and love the characters.

But while these are reservations in terms of the film’s purpose, it’s hard to deny it was very enjoyable. Freak-shows, and the recent spate of documentary freakshows will almost always hold fascination with audiences, because it’s a fun and pointed reminder of our ‘normality’ and justifies our sense of moral conformity. If nothing else, Crazy Love shows the endless possibilities that human relationships can throw up, and while it is such a cliché to state it: the truth really can be stranger than fiction.