Saturday, 20 December 2008

Avant que j'oublie (Before I Forget, France, 2007)

Director: Jacques Nolot.

Principal cast: Jacques Nolot, Marc Rioufol, Bruno Moneglia, Bastien d'Asnières.

Ageing isn’t a kind process to most people but it can be a lot worse if your dashing looks and athletic body used to be your main source of income. „Before I Forget”, the final installment of Jacques Nolot’s trilogy about gay life in Paris follows the daily routines of a 58-year-old former hustler (or gigolo as he prefers to be called himself) Pierre whose seemingly well-off life cannot conceal the fact that his decaying body is only the visible tip of the chilly iceberg which his life has become. The film’s director, Jacques Nolot stars himself as Pierre in this rather melancholic, still surprisingly unsentimental account of a person’s dusk on the fringes of the society.

The film opens with a black circle emerging as a dot on a white screen. Slowly but steadily the circle grows bigger until it swallows the entire screen, thus making the viewer take a plunge into the kind of oblivion which Pierre is facing. Living off the money provided by former wealthy lovers, Pierre spends his days meeting old gigolo friends, going to a psycho- therapist, trying to write, engaging young hustlers or just watching life pass by at his local bistro over a beer and a sandwich.

Conversations with his friends and acquaintances are devoid of any passion or real interest in what the other has to say. All topics seem to circle around the prices of rentboys and how poorly they are doing moneywise themselves while trying to convince the counterpart that he should feel lucky and privileged. There is no room for genuine compassion or empathy in these conversations, so the only people who can stand Pierre’s moaning are the ones he pays, namely his psychotherapist and the hustlers who treat it as a professional duty to listen to him. Pierre sometimes talks of suicide and how even seemingly well-adjusted people do it but his composed façade won’t let his surroundings take him seriously and only ascribe such talk to his attention seeking. The thought of his death approaching has never really been absent in Pierre’s mind. Already at the age of 25 he decided not to make any investments since he didn’t expect to live much longer. And for the past 24 years Pierre has had his HIV-positive status hanging over him as the Sword of Damocles, always expecting the worst but never actually succumbing to the virus.

He did, however, make some investments. At the age of 25 when he had already put a cross on himself, he met Tountoune, a former society gigolo who became his lover and benefactor. Although they never lived under the same roof, they were together for almost 35 years. Tountoune had also willed his entire fortune to Pierre but his will was never registered with a lawyer because of some quarrels the two had in their last years, so when Tountoune suddenly died on the day they were supposed to meet for lunch, Pierre was only left with two life insurances in his name as his benefactor’s family naturally removed the handwritten will from the desk drawer where it was kept for many years. Pierre feels cheated out of his old lover’s inheritance, the only pension a former hustler can hope for, but the whole ordeal only seems to motivate him to put a bigger effort behind writing.

Despite his writing ambitions, Pierre has never been much of a reader himself. Although the bookshelves in his flat (which he actually owns) don’t display much empty space, he claims that he falls asleep after the first page he’s trying to read. He laments his lack of culture when he visits his shrink, still he is driven to put his own thoughts on paper for others to read. His apparent inability to concentrate in order to read seems to be the same force that makes him write – his fear of the oblivion, the black circle which threatens to devour him before it’s too late to leave a footprint in the world of the living. Before he forgets. And despite his talk of suicide and Pasolini’s beautiful death, he doesn’t really want to go as yet. Although he claims that nothing interests him anymore, he spitefully resists a new HIV treatment since it may have side effects – loss of hair and looks. He still dresses elegantly and rarely lets his guard down in front of others. His obvious vanity at 58 suggests that he is still the same defiant and proud person behind his fatalistic façade. The final scene of the film, powerfully supported by Mahler’s music, masterfully shows this defiance of the oblivion he’s inevitably facing with all the dignity you can expect from an old unbroken queen.

„Before I Forget” is a stylistically flawless film which leaves the discerning viewer with a sense of empowerment. Unmistakeably French in its existentialist outlook and poetic camera work, this film is a sombre study of what may be in store for a person outside of the mainstream society toward the end of his days.

Here you can watch the film's trailer

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