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Exit. Le droit de mourir

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Fernand Melgar CH 2005 76'

No one knows the day or the hour. When illness strikes, accompanied by pain and physical decline, there we are, faced with death. The outlook on what remains of life appears dismal and full of anguish. How to spare oneself, and one's closest family, slow agony? Switzerland is the only country in the world where associations, such as EXIT, quite legally provide suicide assistance to people at the end of their lives. For over twenty years volunteers have accompanied sick and handicapped people towards a death of their choice that seems more dignified to them. In this documentary, these escorts and the people they accompany tackle death head-on. Not like a taboo or an unacceptable end, but like a release. With their words and gestures, their convictions and their doubts, they talk about the path they have travelled. In a society tending to control everything, they refer us back to this quintessential, intimate question: Is choosing our death not our ultimate freedom?

"The result of this experiment is astounding. EXIT, as the film has been named, is basically a compilation of typical scenes from the society's daily life. Perhaps in an attempt to let the viewer make their own decisions, Melgar does not impose his own interpretation—Melgar merely takes the role of the passive observer. There is no narrative to guide you nor is there a journalist interviewing anyone and summarising things for you. Instead the film builds on the intimate conversations between its characters, including suicide candidates, other members of EXIT, relatives, friends, accompanying volunteer workers, secretaries, and others.
Little by little, the viewer learns about the motivations of candidates for suicide, their ups and downs, and about their feelings for their loved ones. We learn how difficult it is to be an accompanying volunteer worker. "This is not something you can do as regularly as clockwork. It's an exceptional act every single time. I'm exhausted after every assisted suicide," Dr Sobel says.
Ultimately, the film shows how peaceful the process of an assisted suicide can be. They simply drink a glass of "magic potion" and fade in the company of their loved ones."
Raghav Chawla, British Medical Journal

"It is through the extraordinary precision of his shots and their division in time and space describing the links between the characters of the film, that Fernand Melgar succeeds in clarifying the reasons and procedures by which human beings decide to break the bonds that hold them to life. The challenge is intimidating for it is a matter of approaching, with their agreement and without distorting their behaviour, people who act and think on the margins of communal morality. The film EXIT, from the name of the Association for the right to die in dignity, an association founded in 1980 in French-speaking Switzerland and which now has 10,000 members from the ages of 21 to 103, describes the activities of those voluntary workers who accompany up until the moment of their death people exhausted by and no longer willing to endure their illnesses and suffering.
Two types of pictures give this story of reality the dimension of initiation, to which a sequence filmed in Japan confers a widened cultural and moral horizon. There are fluid shots that follow the movements of conversations and bodies. They decipher the pressing needs for complicity and compassion on the part of those whose calling is to carry out the gestures that lead to death. The sequence of a walk by the two accompanying voluntary workers in a landscape of mist and ghostly trees is astounding, and haunting. The film maker and his chief cameraman manage to capture between the words and pauses of their conversation the universal preoccupations linked to life and death. Suspended in an imaginary territory through which memory moves back and forth between the two shores, this moment defines the controlled rhythm of the story which never jolts or shocks the viewer.
Then there are static shots framed and filmed with almost mathematical precision, sketching in depth the structures of a world of annual general meetings, committee meetings and sessions in an office, in which we see and hear about the rules, procedures, postures and techniques characteristic of the participants in EXIT. The great merit of the film lies in simultaneously establishing the proximity of the sympathetic approach and the distance from an ethnographical point of view, which give a moral stature, made up of aesthetic choices and fascinating narrative right up to the last minute and to the extreme limit which the film can risk capturing."
Fernand Melgar, Visions du Réel