Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ON DVD : BEFORE I FORGET

The best of recent gay-themed movies seem to focus on youth; the beauty of it and the ignorance in it. Time To Leave, The Witnesses, Garcon Stupide, Broken Sky. I suppose Gods and Monsters is an exception, but still, Ian McKellan spends most of his time in that film drawing and dreaming about young, naked men. Sure, we get a little self-reflection in his James Whale depiction, but nothing like the stark portrait of Pierre that director Jacques Nolot gives us in the wonderful Before I Forget.

Pierre is a sixty year old Parisian ex-gigolo not only staring down the twenty-four year long reality that he is HIV +, but dealing with the loneliness that came as a result of his loose lifestyle. These were men drawn together through love but ultimately driven apart by lust, an inability to stay monogamous. Nolot hints at something here that has, so far, gone untouched in gay cinema: the trial of being sexually loyal while emotionally committed to one partner, and, specifically, how that has left many homosexual males alone in the later stages of their lives.

Nolot's name may be an unfamiliar one, but to those familiar with French cinema, his face shouldn't be. A regular in the films of Techine, Denis, and Ozon, Nolot's mug is a handsome one, but in that stereotypically froggish way. His skin sags, and he wears over-sized suits, but he carries a wise sexuality about him like only an aging Frenchman can. His gaze and patience communicate a million emotions. We watch Pierre on his shrink's couch, fingers crossed, confessing frustrations and stories of his past. Pierre is looking away from us. There is no movement, just words. Yet the physical communication in this scene is incredible.

Before I Forget starts with a simple visual metaphor that recalls the entirety of Derek Jarman's meaningful blue-screen stunt, Blue. In silence, a black dot appears against a white screen. The dot slowly grows in size, eventually saturating the entire screen. We next jump to a shot of Pierre (Nolot) and his lover admiring their cemetery lots, and the message is clear, these men - victims of an AIDS epidemic they didn't see coming - are in the final stages of their lives. There is no anger, no push back, just acceptance.

The title itself implies a race against time, not only to cement the memory of one's existence, but to artistically capture a specific human condition before the moment is lost. I don't know if Nolot himself is HIV +, but in the way he portrays a human life living with it (both in Before I Forget and the his 2004 film Porn Theater) means that he's at least been close to some who were.

I don't think Before I Forget ever got an official American release, but - in addition to it's recent DVD release - the film has been screening at various Gay & Lesbian film festivals. If it travels to your town, go see it, because humanist filmmakers like Nolot need our support.

5 comments:

Marilyn said...

This sounds fabulous. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for it.

Megan said...

I echo Marilyn's comment.

Rick Olson said...

"stereotypically froggish way"? And just what eez that, mon ami?

Fox said...

Marilyn & Megan -

Thanks. And yes, definitely check it out. I looked to see if there were any screenings coming up soon, but nothing via a quick Google search. However, I think it's been playing at every major Gay & Lesbian Festival this year, so that would be the place to look.

Also, it is available on Netflix. So is Porn Theater.

Rick-

Ha! I tried to get that out in a way would be least destructive to my Francophile buddies, but I just couldn't think of anything better. Hey I threw "stereotypically" in there! :)

There are so many French actors like that to me. They don't exude attractiveness on initial appearance, but their style (from clothes, to hair, to skin condition) is so cool that it lifts them up above it. I'm drawing a blank right now on examples of actors... but I know there are some.

Pat said...

May I just "third" the comments of Marilyn and Megan? This film sounds great, and I appreciate you bringing attention to it.