Adventurous auds won’t soon Forget tale of a man winding down

Before I Forget (Avant Que J’Oublie)

on July 18, 2008 by Matthew Nestel

Much can be drawn from the first image of this boxed-in French drama. The opening reveals an untarnished white space. A few frames in a round spot in the middle of the screen appear, resembling an Apple computer booting up. Its shades vary from blue to black. Closer and closer the camera creeps into this black hole until we’re completely immersed in black and pulled into some sort of psych experiment intended to steal our consciousness. Distinct parallels cannot be skipped over here. A former male gigolo’s shelf life comes to the fore, and the dark aspects of age and practicality weigh out over youth’s precious fallacies: impulsiveness and invincibility. After years and years of accumulated knee-burn scars, one man’s assimilation into normality fails because, in the end, he is—and will forever be—a gay courtesan lost in a wild time two decades past. Though subtitled in English, the bulk of Before I Forget is silent. Crowds on the East or West Coasts will take the plunge, while the rest will stay on the guided tour of mainstream fare, steering clear of the progressive backcountry territory.

The film begins in media res—specifically at a funeral where Pierre Pruez (Jacques Nolot) stands over a friend’s grave and ponders, “What next?” Nights are plagued with tossing and turning, heaving and convulsing. Soon it’s understood that HIV is the culprit.

Tiptoeing through sleepless nights in full Adam, the portly poet pushing 60 fixes himself a coffee and puffs drag after drag while staring at a blank notebook. The atmosphere is all-around quiet, with slow-holding shots over his inner sanctum. Tranquility is abruptly stirred when the buzzer is rung and police come for a former beau who left a wounded heart and a trail of outstanding parking tickets.

At a café, a long shot at a table for one shows a half-drunk beer and a sandwich, and it becomes clear there is barely enough stuff beating the heart in this numb existence. This isn’t living. The nectar of life needs some nurturing. And instantly, in the form of a hard shag with a delivery boy, this void seems momentarily fulfilled. Roles reverse and the young man dominates—the senior counterpart feels his years and is clearly outmatched by the younger steed. More role playing goes on in the Paris flat, where a room with an old barber’s chair welcomes other unsuspecting youths to collect their monies for groceries as well as a happy-ending gratuity.

For Pierre, popping pills and divulging topical woes to his analyst is like applying temporary gauze to stop the bleeding. Every session, whether it be sexual or psychological, demands cash and instantly the other is gone, making an immediate beeline for the door. Nobody offers a goodbye other than a door slam. Alone again. Despite reaching out to his fellow gay brethren who are living high on the hog and seem to be preoccupied by their bourgeois status, Pierre manages to see clearly that he lingers in the past. Stuck on a sugar daddy who passed away, he reads aloud letters from a happier time 20 years ago and intersects with other men who were also on the payroll. Somehow, the path is a way to connect back to a time that went by too fast. Now older, slower and without much of a constitution to boast, the only thing left is the memory of what was. Adding to the crises is the insecurity of Pierre’s inheritance, which he learns is no longer a certainty—virtually all the priceless possessions promised him, in fact, are auctioned off to the public. This reality forces Pierre to revert back to his hustler roots and take what’s due him.

The film’s petty budget stands out. The interiors provide a scope that is very limited, and though it’s supposed to be Paris, one needs a lot of convincing. More blatant, though, is the impotent supporting cast. No one can hold his/her own with the main character, who carries this story the entire way on his hunkered posture. It’s too much to ask of screenwriter/director/star Jacques Nolot to pull off. Whether the choice to use unknowns was conscious, the thing still has to work. Fortunately, the scenes feature mostly one man in introspection while the rest of the characters are mere garnish and thus don’t deter too much from the story’s thrust.

Once the shine of youth tucks away for good, what’s left but the shed skin of one’s past—a past that no longer fits? Pierre longs to be back in his glory days, when he was sought after and when he was the one getting the tips and compliments. At one point in the film, he admits that he feels like he is 15 years old, but he clearly sees himself in the mirror and falls hard but slow to the reflected truth before him. The suicide he craves is probably happening, but not fast enough. Doctors’ tidbits might try and add a couple of years and prevent full-blown AIDS—or as Pierre dubs it, looking like an “Auschwitz victim.” Eerily, the film strides in very still shoes. Not a lot of ground is covered, but that might just be the point. The end of days are near, and the film is the interim itself, watching a man wind down ever so slowly while trying for a few last gasps to stave it off.

Distributor: Strand
Cast: Jacques Nolot, Jean-Pol Dubois, Marc Rioufol and Bastien d’Asnières
Director/Screenwriter: Jacques Nolot
Producer: Pauline Duhault
Genre: Drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 108 min.
Release date: July 18 ltd.

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