"Dance Me Until The End"

in 12nd IndieLisboa - International Independent Film Festival

by Manuel Halpern

It’s said that before we die we see a bright light that may look like Heaven’s door. “Before We Go”, the documentary of the Belgian director Jorge Léon, makes it longer and more colorful. Or as the director describes it, the meeting point between “carpe diem” and “memento mori”.

The film won the FIPRESCI award in IndieLisboa, from a competition considering only the first and second films of the Silvestre Section (the “wildest” section of the festival, dedicated to the great Portuguese director João César Monteiro). Although it was the only documentary in FIPRESCI’s competition, it felt stronger than the fiction films.

Léon has undergone substantial location work with terminally ill patients, and that has built a strong and profound baseline for the film. The way he observes them is deeply humanizing, finding beauty in the most unexpected context. Beauty can be seen in the elegance with which he captures the woman, fat and old, with lost capacity of mobility, getting ready to go out. We can feel her loneliness, the fragility of her strong body, and somehow we become part of it. But Léon is just preparing us to break through, to follow along with her until the great catharsis, the earthly liberation of body and soul. This is not achieved through some kind of spiritual guru. This is made by art. The film is a persuasive demonstration of faith in arts and culture.

The highest point of the film is, definitely, the dance between the old woman and the American choreographer Meg Stuart. It’s a liberation act, searching for small pleasures: simple things like the touch of the body, a small kiss, or lying on the floor. Later we can see the old man chasing death, which means the skeleton dress of Meg. It’s better to be the hunter than the hunted. They change clothes, in the most transcendental way of being empathetic. Or like Nick Cave’s song says: “And I am not afraid to die” (The Mercy Seat is sung and performed inside an elevator). Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love” could be even more appropriate. Likewise a Pasolini quote (“Oedipus Rex”) or the reading of Oscar Moore (“A Matter of Life and Sex”).

Filmed at the Théâtre Opera Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, “Before We Go” is a unique documentary, with strong images that try to find a new way of looking at life and death. As Dylan Thomas wrote: “Do not go gentle into that good night / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Edited by Carmen Gray