Stopped On Track by the cruelty of death
by Fabien Lemercier
Dresen’s film adopts an entirely different approach from Valerie Donzelli’s, however, choosing a direct and ruthless style to depict the last months in the life of a man “sentenced to death by medicine”. Endowed with a provocative and impeccably formal style, the film screens today in the Un Certain Regard section of the 64th Cannes Film Festival, in which the German helmer won the Jury Coup de Coeur in 2008 for Cloud 9 [trailer].
From the opening scene, in which Michel (Milan Peschel), accompanied by his wife Simone (Steffi Kühnert), is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, the starkly realist, dramatic and clinical tone of Stopped On Track offers the audience no escape. Neither are we spared scenes of physical and mental deterioration, as if they were an extension of the doctor’s advice on how Michel and Simone can explain the situation to their two young children.
The viewer observes in detail all stages of dying, right until the very last breath: from shock and paralysing fear at the thought of an imminent death, the harsh side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, to a gradual loss of physical mobility, memory and clear-headedness; psychological, alternative and purely medical treatments. Yet, Michel is portrayed as neither a hero nor a coward, just an ordinary man haunted by the fear of death, a terror he somehow manages to brave at home surrounded by his wife and children.
Often moving, at times disturbing, but always engaging, Stopped On Track is set over three seasons, from summer to winter, in a country house for the most part, offering the viewer some visual respite from a story with a sombre end. Without deviating from its choice of veracity – sometimes bordering on encouraging suicide – Dresen does nonetheless include some (rare) fast-forwards and (highly) relative optimism with two songs performed by Michel on electric guitar.
Behind the simple and calm façade evident in many scenes, the directing style is highly detailed as Michel keeps an emotional diary of sorts, by filming himself and talking to himself on his iphone. With an effort to avoid, wherever possible, additional pathos to dialogue that is essentially already overloaded, Dresen confirms after Cloud 9 and his study of sexuality among the elderly, that no difficult theme is off limits.
(Translated from French)