Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
BEFORE I FORGET
Jacques Nolot writes, directs, and stars, appearing in almost every frame in an unsparing but very cool performance. As a filmmaker, he’s less interested in character development than presenting an upfront portrait of loneliness, which first begins with the camera gradually moving toward a gaping black hole in the center of a white background and ends with the lead character defiantly venturing alone and vanishing into the dark.
Pierre, a gay man in his early sixties, still cuts a rakish figure. With only a slightly receding hairline, he holds off on taking his cocktail of meds—he has been HIV positive for 24 years—because he won’t lose his hair. He lives by himself, but as he proudly points out, in a home he owns, bought by his wealthy and recently deceased benefactor of 30 years. Though Pierre has been cut out of his inheritance by the man’s family, at least he has the apartment—though little else.
Nolot effectively creates the mood of Pierre’s solitary life in episodic scenes played out like a series of private-acts-in-public acting exercises. After waking up from night sweats, Pierre carefully prepares coffee, sips it at his desk, attempting to write. Having lunch at café, he sits on one side of the bar. Across from him, men his own age boisterously engage in a world of their own. The long takes and unhurried pace lend a sense of real time, but also a feeling of enervation.
Pierre has few friends, mostly gigolos like himself—that’s what they call themselves. Certainly the label has a less rough and seedy connotation than “hustler.” But even with someone he has known for 40 years, Pierre’s conversations are more like impersonal interrogations, with as much warmth as a job interview. These stilted conversations set the tone, whether Pierre chats with a neighbor (“Are you still seeing your shrink? Are you still taking piano lessons?”) or a young hustler (Pierre’s advice: get security while you’re young). Even in a sex scene, there’s a lot of talk—dirty talk. (Now off the market, Pierre pays, in this case 50 euros.) With verbose and eloquent characters (let alone the fog of cigarette smoke), Before I Forget won’t easily shake off the label of a “French film,” and all that that implies.
However uninhibited Nolot may be in some scenes, as an actor he remains in control. Nolot’s guarded performance reveals little emotion, despite the mercilessly scrutinizing vérité camera. At home, he reads a letter from “my father, my mother, my bank,” as he calls his deceased sugar daddy/lover, and later tells a friend he wept at the letter, but we have to take him at his word. For a jarring comparison, Le Petit Lieutenant’s Nathalie Baye, in another portrait of a loner, oozes with feeling in an equally low-key, unselfconscious role.
Though this is an unflinching look
of growing old alone, there’s still a bit of the glamorization of “the
life.” Most prostitutes, male or female, should be so fortunate to have
a longtime benefactor, or property. Another ex-gigolo, about 10 years
younger than Pierre, has even secured a cushy Swiss bank account with
the help of his benefactor’s money laundering schemes—the equivalent of
a nineteenth-century courtesan hitting the jackpot. Kent