Review: "Before I Forget" (Nolot, France)

Daniel Kasman
Except for a terrible moment, waking up early in the morning retching, popping pills, pounding coffee, unable to write and very unhappy, the solitary life of 60-year old ex-gigolo Pierre (Jacques Nolot) seems misleadingly normal. While his days are made up of routine, much of his time is actually spent in the company of other aging gay men, complaining about his languishing days past his prime. With such a modest focus on the man’s day-to-day affairs, money seems to factor into everything: the young men Pierre and his friends buy for sex, the contested inheritances of the men’s older now-dead johns, the cost of a psychoanalyst. These days, a focus on money and the past has replaced any real sense of intimacy, and when it comes down to it, Pierre’s life at ease appears desperately lonely.
In a telling bit of humor in a film that can be unexpectedly droll, when a bailiff rings Pierre's bell to follow-up on the unpaid parking tickets of Pierre’s old flatmate, he tells the bailiff over the intercom that his lover left him and he is "very unhappy." Jacques Nolot, who stars in, as well as writes and directs Before I Forget, lends the almost placid and sometimes amusing surface of Pierre's quotidian, day-to-day life an autobiographical tremor of real, deep-rooted unhappiness. Yet this is an incongruous feeling—Pierre, well dressed and coifed, looks too handsome, composed and noble, and even in his moments alone, with the exception of the film's very beginning and very end, we rarely see the supposed depression and almost suicidal anguish which Pierre repeatedly, almost habitually expresses to his friends and associates.
Like the film, Pierre's surface is one of restraint, collection, and composure, but when he speaks Pierre does little but lament about a barely seen interior state of disarray, regretting past actions and missing old loves. This disconnect between exterior appearances and interior states makes Before I Forget one of the most unexpected surprises I've seen in some time, as the film's calmness and regularity, its artful concision and beautifully, carefully told narrative, and Nolot's charming, quietly Lothario-like persona, makes the days (or are they weeks and months?) of Pierre’s dejected existence made up mostly of ease in conversation, routine, and complaint.
Yet there is this darkness, this darkness in his speech, in some moments of night (both of sickness and of sex) that hint at a terribleness inside him. He speaks often of his HIV positive status and his continuing treatment of the disease, and again it is not in the chain-smoking writer who sups on oysters with old friends and lounges around the debt-ridden luxurious mansions of old associates that speaks of the character's—or the film's—secret lament.
With so much confession of the past and of unhappiness, this lament comes through most of all as an absence. The film’s stable, singular focus on Pierre speaks both for his self-reliance and his miserable loneliness, where his therapist seems to cut every session short and his so-called friends only tolerate his complaints. The film is so quietly intimate with Pierre one cannot fail to notice that there is no one else within whom the film—or Pierre—can share this sense of subtly compassionate intimacy. There is a supple sadness to these simply lonely sequences of men talking to each other but mostly talking about themselves and their ails. It is the disconnect between the talk of torment of Pierre and his seemingly in-control life that speaks toward an unseen and utterly barren inner life that the exterior can rarely admit.



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