It is not easy to like Jørgen Leth. An old man, grumpy, vain and self-obsessed. But he’s also brutally honest, vulnerable, uncompromisingly himself and not afraid to make a fool of himself. I Walk is an intuitive, unconventional, sometimes anti-aesthetic record of his attempts to make sense of destruction, old age and fear.
In 2012 Leth experienced an earthquake in his second home country of Haiti. His documentary starts with the event, or the moments before it happened, when he was happily unaware of imminent disaster. It then shows the aftermath – his house destroyed, people lying dead on the roads, his state of bewilderment and shock.
He also states this was the moment he lost his ability to walk properly, which propelled him into old age. He doesn’t make a secret of his inability to come to terms with the deficiencies accompanying old age. In unattractive video selfies, predominantly shot in his bed, he comments on his sagging, expanding body and all the things he can’t do anymore.
All this is done in a non-straightforward manner. It is a seemingly incoherent collection of memories, ruminations, observations and fears. But it works, as he takes you inside his confused, chaotic brain and makes you feel what it is like to lose the ground underneath your feet.
And all this doesn’t stop him from being ambitious, as he sets out to fulfil his lifelong dream to conquer the jungle. The journey he undertakes, together with his son, is extensively documented, with a regular camera and smart phone cameras, so we always see it from different angles. At one point you’re looking at his son filming Leth, who is filming something happening on the water. It feels like he wants to make sure you’re aware of the fact that everything you see is shown from a particular, personal perspective.
On his journey he’s drawing parallels with events in his earlier life: as he’s striving to get somewhere he shows footage of the Danish professional cyclist Ole Ritter, struggling but succeeding in reconnecting with the peloton in the front of a race. You hear Leth commenting on the race from the time when he was a highly regarded sports commentator for Danish television, making reflective, almost philosophical films about cycling.
Much like Ritter, Leth keeps pushing himself to get back into the race. But he has to admit he can no longer can rely on his own strength. He needs the people around him.
Meanwhile we also see images of him visiting Haiti long after the quake, remembering what the ruins looked like before – the church once filled with people and music is now a collection of shattered walls overgrown with plants.
As the egodoc continues it doesn’t really get any easier to like Leth. He is cocky, continually irritated and hard-headed. But you do grow some sympathy and admiration as he is exposes every little doubt and fear, but also gratitude for what he still has (which is quite a lot) and is willing to share.
You can ask yourself what the purpose of his intended artwork in the jungle is. You can call it an act of a megalomaniac. Or you can just enjoy the beauty of it and let it take you to places you didn’t know existed. And look forward to Leth’s next, unsteady steps as he keeps on walking as the imperfect human he is, like all of us.