The singular feature that runs throughout the FIDMarseille festival selections is a spirit of pure, unabashed formal looseness. While this has certainly been an enduring characteristic distinguishing the documentary festival ever since its inception, it is still incredible how it has held onto championing absolutely audacious, untethered works that feel fully liberated from any obligation to toeing in with easily palatable, digestible viewer engagement.

In this age, as the pace of consumption is at an all-time damning high, the films at this festival are marked by a necessary pause and reflection. Declan Clarke’s If I Fall, don’t Pick Me Up may feel too impatient, making viewers restless and pushing them to a great degree. To what point can you keep watching tableaux-like shots of houses, exterior sites, and scraps of paper, with sporadic intertitles functioning as a guide?

It all depends on your threshold of patience and your willingness to accept and absorb cinema, which takes its time but has the expanse and bandwidth to be magnificently exploratory, terrifically unbound, and supremely confident in its ability to stretch the limits of viewing. It is an invitation to withhold energy, arrest it for a brief while even as you grasp the fine specifics of what this kind of engagement is designed to entail and invoke. This kind of cinema allows you ample breathing space and encourages you to detach from the bustle and haste of trying to work a way through an excess of information and perspective. Sure, there are more than sufficient facts that pepper the film throughout. Some of it may even be argued as distracting.

The nature of such slow viewing accommodates a variety of responses, ranging from frustration to quiet, gradual immersion. Every minute, drawn-out and languorous, carries the weight of the central relationship the film rests on, i.e., the friendship between Samuel Beckett and Walter Asmus. The latter emerges as a concrete presence in the film. But we don’t hear him speak. His presence, instead, has the sturdiness of someone who has witnessed. His gaze directly falls upon us, the viewer. It’s a sobering equation the director builds between Asmus and us.

If I Fall, Don’t Pick Me Up (2024) ‘FIDMarseille’ Movie Review
A still from “If I Fall, Don’t Pick Me Up” (2024)

The film takes us back to the start of the deep friendship between Beckett and Asmus in 1974. This was the first time Beckett had agreed to direct a production based on his classic play, Waiting for Godot. Asmus was 34 and Beckett 68 when the latter roped the former in to assist him in the production at the Schiller theatre in Berlin. Their correspondences over the years, spanning most of the seventies and spilling into the eighties till Beckett’s death, serve as the sole textual backbone of the film. There are a lot of scribbled notes in the play script that are punctuated throughout.

Beckett’s lifestyle and interaction with Asmus are discussed in detail, including how Beckett had initially struggled to direct German actors. His instruction to them? Hold back. There’s little that’s explicitly laid out for the viewer to help him/her navigate the world it builds in measured, lingering strokes. A lot of empty, abandoned places, like the interiors of buildings or unoccupied natural scenes, intersperse the film.

It all feels like a moment trapped in some glorious, expectant stasis. Every place seems to be biding their time. The subtle intelligence of “If I Fall, Don’t Pick Me Up” is in how it weaves these still frames into the overarching and ultimate framework when the connection becomes wholly clear. There are moments when you may be lost and grappling to comprehend. Despite the inclusion of textual cues, the blankness is overwhelming and confounding. There’s not so much handholding of the viewer, nevertheless this film integrates its seemingly disparate elements into a coherent, contiguous whole in an unusually intriguing manner.

If I Fall, Don’t Pick Me Up (2024) premiered at the FIDMarseille Film Festival 2024.

If I Fall, Don’t Pick Me Up (2024) Movie Link: MUBI

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