Tribeca Film Review: Ne Me Quitte Pas

WARNING: I am gonna get cheesy up in this post. And maybe even a little flowery/philosophical...I warned you! When a movie is over I like it to be like that silence at the end of a piece of live music. (You were warned bros!) A perceptible pause between the resonating note and the joyous clapping following it. The feeling always reminds me of a Wallace Stevens line from his poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird "I do not know which to prefer,/The beauty of inflections/Or the beauty of innuendoes,/The blackbird whistling/ Or just after." With film, the endnote is something that can almost border on sculptural, combining image, sound, and word in a balance that holds all of the senses in the air for a brief moment before the credits roll. It is the kind of contemplative inhale that only entrancing, complex films can achieve. The final scene of Ne Me Quitte Pas manifests this exact feeling, one of goosebumps & wonder, pure joy & unfathomable sadness.

Marcel and Bob are friends. Maybe drunks. Definitely drunks. Both accepting or dismissing this fact depending on the time of day. Or the leaving of a wife. Or the estrangement of a son. There is a solace in each other, not of a warm, hugging kind but more of a harsh, cold, survivalist kind, the feeling that if one of them lets go they both might sink to the bottom (the films title translating to Don't Leave Me). They push through life toying with death, validating and dismissing both, with a heartbreaking realism and burning edges of dark laughter. The funny scenes so morose that laughing never seems to be the appropriate reaction. Laughing feels wrong. Crying too feels wrong. Despite this cloud of uneasiness that Marcel and Bob create the film does not simply settle in this mood, it refuses to rely on the woozy charms of the drunken. Instead, an exquisite, progressive storytelling turns these two tragic alcoholics into something far greater than themselves.

The use of french pop songs against a visually stunning Belgian countryside, a controlled contemporary documentary with a neo-realism feel. The camera disappears into the shadows of Marcel & Bob's lives, capturing an intimacy, a loneliness, a desire that cameras rarely have access to. Other times, the camera observes from a non-judgemental distance, just safe enough. An open-ness (probably made easier thanks to extreme lubrication!) breaks down the subjects into the contradicting, flawed humans we all are, tightly grabbing the attention (and the subconscious) of the entire audience. All of these elements were then edited with a skill that rivals the French New Wave: a stark cut able to tell even more than an image. The filmmakers, Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koeverden, somehow built up the world of Ne Me Quitte Pas instead of simply recording it. It is a new form of artful documentary, a precise storytelling vision that, in my opinion, has challenged the idea of the documentary.

Today I was reading a piece in the NYTimes Magazine about a writer who has accidentally became the leader of a cultural environmental movement. The movement isn't exactly nihilistic but it does think that saving the planet from environmental collapse isn't possible and that we need to move our thinking towards a post-catastrophe way of life (a similar concept to this other thing I was just reading about the Netherlands approach to climate change, they have accepted rising waters and are adapting instead of fortifying, dams be damned perhaps? Pun. womp womp). The movement's "leader," Paul Kingsnorth, is quoted as saying in a previous article, " 'Whenever I hear the word ‘hope’ these days, I reach for my whiskey bottle. It seems to me to be such a futile thing. What does it mean? What are we hoping for? And why are we reduced to something so desperate? Surely we only hope when we are powerless?' "  He is right. "Hope" is almost always invoked in the name of bleakness, an attempted comfort in the face of something that needs to be overcome, changed, an uncertainty, a desire. When trying to write about the way Ne Me Quitte Pas acts as a film, as a documentary, I kept dancing around the word "hope." When you watch Marcel and Bob they almost seem ambivalent towards life and death. They are living, thinking, emotional beings but the decisions they continue to make contradict this fact. One hopes that they will either improve their conditions or, frankly, not, giving into an end that they are both well aware of. When this film was over, the last shot a simple breath taking image that one must experience to understand, I felt that moment of extreme, weighted silence in which I had to remind myself to inhale. It is not just a hope for Marcel and Bob. It is a hope for everything.




Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.