Published Nov 13, 2012Though similar in concept to Michael Haneke's devastatingly honest mortality drama, Amour, Andreas Dresen's vivid depiction of the degenerating effects of a brain tumour in Stopped on Track is less epic and pointed in scope and intent, having more of an insular interest in depicting a gritty, oft-ignored, reality cinematically than making a statement about cinema and culture itself. Much like his controversial, though thematically tame, senior citizen sex-fest, Cloud 9,
Although, in presenting the quotidian reality of a man diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, the drama presents naturally. After Frank (Milan Peschel) learns of his condition, his immediate reaction is one of inner-confusion, which is represented by his at-home experiential video diaries. He goes about his daily routine, taking an understandable break from work, but is unable to interpret his reality, leading to various guidance sessions with various professionals, all of whom make various broad claims about coping with mortality and accepting death.
But as Frank starts to understand and accept his future, his personality and physical aptitude starts to diminish. At first it's subtle, with him unable to put together a bed for his son or control his temper, but eventually his reality starts to shift and finds himself unable to focus on any given task or focus on basic motor skills, which is particularly difficult on his emotionally-frazzled wife Simone (Steffi Kühnert).
In handling this deterioration, Dresen smartly removes any overtly melodramatic scenarios, instead focusing on Frank's gradual changes in behaviour and juxtaposing it with his family's gradual unravelling. Unable to cope with their patriarch's inevitable downward trajectory, their external emotional performance represents the internal battle Frank battles in coping with death.
If there is a fault in Andreas Dresen's exceedingly realistic and challenging drama, it's that the preoccupation with capturing the horrors of mortal illness tends to overshadow the banality in between the big moments. Rarely are we afforded the opportunity to witness Frank's occasional moments of lucidity or daily experiences that don't pivot specifically on drama or character development, which indirectly contradicts the proposed template of documentation.
Still, this unflinching look at the unsavoury nature of forced annihilation anxiety has the smarts not to satisfy audience needs with glib fatalistic statements or compact resolutions about what should be universally important in life.
Stopped on Track screens at the Royal Cinema on Thursday, November 15th at 8:30pm. (Pandora Film)