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Love Pains

Documentary exposes love’s dirty deeds

lovepainsLove—it is fundamentally wonderful, nutty, crazy and unexplainable. There are high school sweethearts, adult lovers, marriage partners and then there’s psychotic love, the type that has the capacity to overlook things like abuse, or say, maybe someone throwing acid in your face to purposefully disfigure you. This type of “love” is at the heart of Crazy Love, a wildly disturbing, yet fascinating documentary that takes a look at an obsessive relationship that spans about 50 years.

Burt Pugach met Linda Riss in 1957. She was sitting in a park, while he was driving by in a car. She was beautiful, but wasn’t particularly doing much with her life. He wasn’t terribly handsome, but he was a successful lawyer, who hobnobbed with the rich and famous. It was an awkward beginning, but soon they were dating. The dating led to talks about marriage, but Pugach was already married and didn’t seem to be on a path to divorce. The pair finally split up. Riss went on to meet someone else and became engaged. Meanwhile, Pugach was still obsessed with his ex-girlfriend and was on the verge of terrorizing her. Eventually, that’s exactly what he did. The day after her engagement party, men showed up at Riss’ door, and threw lye in her face. (They were hired guns from Pugach.) His theory? “If I can’t have you, no one will.”

It worked. Riss was mostly blind, and later in her life went completely blind. Following the attack, Pugach served 14 years in prison, was released and then … shockingly … the two reconnected and later went on to marry. And even after they married, yet another tragedy befell them.

This film has so many twists and turns that you can’t believe which direction it’s going next. Director Dan Klores unravels this complicated story with the fine precision of an up-and-coming filmmaker. His startling tale played at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is now hitting theaters. Riss is now 68 and Pugach is 79.

Klores takes us on a journey from their meeting to the diner where they now, well into their golden years, frequently eat. We meet their friends and acquaintances, and see footage of them throughout the years, loads of headlines in the papers, clips on Geraldo and Sally Jessy Raphael and cameras shoved in their faces throughout their lives. It’s a very strange trip—psychedelic maybe, psychotic, most definitely.

Ultimately, Klores never passes judgment on their strange relationship; instead he lets us draw from the story and come up with our own summation on why the hell these two people have stayed together for their entire lives. Is it a case of sick, abusive love, coated with severe codependency? Or was it a crime of passion that has since been forgiven? Or, ultimately, as Riss says in one of the final lines of the film, is it her ultimate revenge—him being stuck with a blind woman and taking care of her? Whatever the answer, it’s most certainly compelling.

The cinematic style is simple, and told in a mostly talking-heads format, but it works. The footage is basic and raw, but frankly, none of that matters—it’s the story that’s the star here.

Crazy Love
*** (out of four)
With Burt Pugach and Linda Riss. Directed by Dan Klores. Not rated. 100 minutes.
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