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by John Cook
I just can’t go on makes extreme realism its greatest strength, while at the same time also standing out for its marked lyricism. In Austria, a new film movement, which aims first and foremost to show us reality as it is, without any filter, has officially begun. At the Viennale 2022, section Österreich real.
Like Mohammed Ali
It is not easy to live in Vienna in the 1970s and make a living if you are of Roma origin and dream of becoming a famous boxer. Petrus, the protagonist of the documentary I just can’t go on, the debut film by director John Cook, made in 1972 and re-presented to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2022, as part of the retrospective Österreich real by the Filmarchiv Austria, knows something about this. In I just can’t go on, therefore, we immediately become part of Petrus’s world, we learn about his life, his everyday life, his (often impossible) dreams.
He has dreamed of becoming a boxer ever since he was a child. As soon as the opportunity comes his way, he takes part in numerous fights. At his side: his wife, a woman twice his age who works as a domestic helper. The two are very much in love (and also very jealous) with each other and also have four children to look after. Some of them, just like their father, would like to become boxers one day.
It is interesting to observe how already in his debut film John Cook devoted special attention to a character who lives almost on the margins of society, who struggles to find his place in the world. Just as it was for the protagonist of Clinch, a fictional feature film that the director made only six years later. In I just can’t go on, then, we see how Petrus tries to realise his dreams while struggling to find a stable job, but finding his only comfort in his family. Between fights, there is always time to play with his children, to take a walk with his wife through the streets of Vienna in autumn or even to listen to Mohammed Ali’s successes on the radio.
A rough black and white is the trademark of I just can’t go on. An extremely realistic approach devoid of any directorial virtuosity proved to be the right way to tell the audience the story of Petrus. A story told from a perspective that is extremely disenchanted, but also, at the same time, sincerely fond of its protagonist. John Cook focuses on simplicity and allows himself to be fascinated by little, precious moments of everyday life, in which, despite everything, one realises how beautiful life can be. Even when living in a 1970s Vienna, where there seems to be no place for people from another country.
I just can’t go on makes this extreme realism its greatest strength, while at the same time standing out for its marked lyricism. In Austria, a new film movement that aims first and foremost to show us reality as it is, without any filter, has officially emerged. Petrus is an extremely human person in need of love and security. Life has not always been generous to him, yet he never seems to want to stop dreaming. His story is also the story of many other people who, like him, still do not know what their fate will be.
Original title: Ich schaff’s einfach nimmer
Directed by: John Cook
Country/year: Austria / 1972
Running time: 50’
Cast: Elfie Semotan
Screenplay: John Cook
Cinematography: John Cook
Produced by: John Cook, Elfie Semotan