`Stopped on Track (Halt auf freier Strecke)’ an intense and honest insight

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Stopped on Track

Directed by Andreas Dresen

Screenplay by Andreas Dresen and Cooky Ziesche

2011, Germany

How do you depict the intangible? How do you put on screen what‘s so hard to grasp and understand in real life? Above all how do you manage to capture it in a way that is not overwhelming and romanticized, but rather honest and appropriate? The film Stopped on Track manages to do all this and maybe even more. Andreas Dresen‘s most recent fiction film is an intimate portrait of the development of a terminal brain tumor. The film sets off with a long opening scene in which the central character Frank (Milan Peschel) together with his wife Simone (Steffi Kühnert) receive his diagnoses. This opening takes unfamiliar, extensive and excruciating eight minutes in which the doctor (Uwe Träger) unfurls Frank‘s prognosis. During the scene the camera pans between the doctor, Frank and his wife, capturing their aghast and confused expressions letting us witness how both try to get a grip of what has just hit them. Much is said in the speechless, awkward moments that continuously appear during this interaction. It seizes the absurdity of the scenario of having to tell someone that they will die, not to mention being the one on the receiving end of these news. The story then develops with the progression of the cancer and focuses on how the family surrounding it‘s brilliant protagonist Milan Peschel as Frank, copes with the finite nature of the scenario. Dresen presents the fleeting nature of the last few months of a dying family man as heartfelt and without drama. The film exhibits the everyday routines unhinged from the ease they usually bare, as a fundamental factor – being able to execute them – is not a given anymore.

Natural lighting, extreme close-ups and mostly improvised dialogue, juxtaposed with a well composed editing are enacted to document this journey. It is an intimate portrait that doesn‘t shy away from this grave side of life. In Stopped on Track Dresen shows the pain, the anger, the absurdity and the bitter truth of fighting mental and physical decay without any true chance. The perspective balances between sympathy, neutral distance and a grim humor only a terminal patient can develop. Story, aesthetics and acting create this beautifully complete symbioses of a saddening whole. The film isn‘t overcharged with the dramatic lasts one could dive into in the light of fatale awareness, instead it follows a rather natural, in real life embedded, narrative. Frank‘s death is the inevitable ending yet not the culmination of a dramatized arche. It is a film that will most likely last longer then the two hours its viewers will spent with it, as Dresen takes his audience to somewhere very real. It is impossible to remain untouched by what is presented on screen, in large part due to Milan Peschel‘s outstanding performance. While excruciating to witness at times (i.e. when Frank uses his daughter‘s room as a bathroom, lost on where the latter actually is located in his home), the film never seems to exploit the fate of his characters, but to accept the inevitable and find a sensitive tone to capture it. In a strange balance between mental outbursts and clear stagnation that is how Dresen composes his film. Varying between long-stretched scenes and temporal jumps, creating the paradoxical nature of experiencing time; it always seems out of pace – too slow, too fast – never right, yet continuously moving forward.

– Merle Fischer

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