Ne Me Quitte Pas is an odd documentary, a film where the synopsis sounds like an indie festival joke. A Dutch film about two Belgian men, bound together by a suicide pact and a love for drinking, as they shuffle along together through life and a shared midlife crisis. Marcel, the younger of the two, has lost all sense of purpose since his wife left him for another man. He sees his kids on the weekends, and he spends his week not doing a whole lot of anything. Bob, a grizzled so-called cowboy, spends his days soaking his liver in rum and his nights looking after Marcel as he behaves similarly. The film moves from one scene to the next with the feeling that very little is happening and yet time is rapidly slipping away from both Marcel and Bob. Soon, hope might be gone for them as well. Suicide, alcoholism, loss of hope. Yup, sounds like the set-up for a film festival joke.
The film’s title means “don’t leave me,” and I really don’t know what these two men would do without each other. Marcel is a wreck, emotionally and physically. One of the first scenes of the movie is Marcel begging his wife to have sex with him one last time. His reasoning is that they were together for sixteen years, so it shouldn’t be a big deal for her to accommodate him. This moment of pathetic awkwardness sets the tone and gave a clue as to what would follow. Very shortly after, Marcel gets so drunk that he falls over and passes out in a corner, and Bob has to dump a bucket of water on Marcel to revive him.
I am sure that there is an audience for a film like Ne Me Quitte Pas. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to expose the loneliness and despair of seeing the end of one’s life in the distance and realizing that a person is too old and stubborn to change. It is the reason why out of the hours of footage that they shot of their lives, they chose to put Marcel’s trip to rehab at the center of the film, and they ended the film with him relapsing. It is the reason why the film opens with Marcel and Bob discussing their end-of-life plans. They will throw a big party for all of their friends and then go off into the woods to a special tree to end their lives. The more the audience sees of their lives, however, the less likely it seems that their plan will come to fruition. Their very special suicide tree in the woods is torn down. Both Bob and Marcel have some family ties left, estranged as they might be, which will hopefully prevent them from following through with these plans. More importantly, who are all these people that Bob and Marcel expect will show up for their big final farewell party?
Sadly, it is more likely that Bob and Marcel will die alone (or together) from complications from their alcoholism than the big send-off they imagined, and herein lies my problem with the film. Watching 85 minutes of self-destruction playing out on screen is deeply uncomfortable, and when it isn’t uncomfortable and depressing, it gets really dull. Some shots go on for way too long, like a scene of Marcel walking down a hallway in rehab. Rather than getting drawn into their lives, I was thinking about how much I needed to clean my apartment or catch up on reading. As Marcel fell off the wagon and cracked open a beer, I wanted to get out of the theater and better myself.
Ne Me Quitte Pas is not a bad movie. As much as I might not personally enjoy it, I’m sure that its subject matter and unusual documentary format will earn it plenty of fans at the Tribeca Film Festival. For me, though, I had trouble getting through it once, and I can’t see myself watching it again. I would only recommend it to certain movie-goers, specifically people interested in patterns of addiction or non-conventional documentary filmmaking.