Review: To Stay Alive: A Method (2016)

To Stay Alive: A Method (2016)

Directed by: Arno Hagers, Erik Lieshout, Reinier van Brummelen | 70 minutes | documentary | Starring: Michel Houellebecq, Iggy Pop

A few years before his breakthrough as a novelist, Michel Houellebecq published an essay in which he gave his vision on life and poetry. The book was called ‘Rester Vivant: Méthode’, as a pragmatic assignment to the poet who wanted to keep writing. This essay forms the foundation of the Dutch documentary ‘To Stay Alive: A Method’, in which rock star Iggy Pop uses Houellebecq’s lyrics to explain what is going on with that life and with those poets.

The documentary is completely original in form and style. While Iggy Pop recites Houellebecq’s lyrics and pulls appropriate faces, we meet a number of ailing artists who have had a bad time with themselves and life. One of those artists is one Vincent, a fictional character played by… Michel Houellebecq. Another is the bipolar poet Anne Claire, a girl who lost her twin sister at a young age and was adopted herself.

In terms of form, style, musical background and artistic coherence, all is well, but the content is less so. The world view propagated by Michel, Iggy and the artists is rather oversimplified. The world is miserable, life hurts hurts hurts, everyone is happy except me, that kind of adolescent lament. The characters seem like adults who have stuck at a younger stage. Anyone who sees old Iggy, at 69 still in his bare torso on stage, sees a sympathetic but elderly teenager.

The lamentation eventually arouses annoyance, also because the portrayed people seem to have no interest whatsoever in the outside world. You can’t blame these people with their miserable psychiatric background, but it doesn’t get interesting. Tellingly, the only gripping scene comes from the only adult characters, Anne Claire’s parents.

Then we haven’t even mentioned the quasi-philosophical musings of Houellebecq himself. Every now and then the writer has an interesting point, but most of the time he seems to be chatting away. Lush and intriguing as only the French can, but ultimately rather empty.

‘To Stay Alive: A Method’ is the second documentary by Messrs Hagers, Lieshout and Van Brummelen. Their first bird was also about Michel Houellebecq. Given the cinematic qualities of this trio, we assume that a third documentary will be hit. But hopefully with more meat on the bones.

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