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Passing the Baton; or, How Film Saved Frank Beauvais’s Life

“Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” is an exorcism, a meditation, a diary of six months of loneliness with hope at the end of the tunnel.
Just Don't Think I'll Scream
Out of apparently nowhere, French director Frank Beauvais’s first feature-length work became one of the hottest tickets in the 2019 Berlinale Forum. True: its structure as a cinephile’s dream—a 75-minute-long “supercut” of scenes or frames from 400 films—would always make festival-goers curious. But Beauvais’s work goes beyond the simple editing bay exercise to become a poignant, immensely moving personal diary of six difficult months in the director’s life.   
Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle (Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream) is, effectively, a warts-and-all exorcism of a period of loneliness and depression in the remote Alsace village the director had moved to, alone in the house he had shared with his partner during seven years, two hours by car away from any sort of urban life. After the relationship ended and Beauvais stayed behind, film became both life preserver and spiritual salvation, and a way to slowly re-engage with life. The 400 films excerpted in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, all of them painstakingly mentioned in the end credits, are the exact same pictures he saw during those six lonely months of 2016 in Alsace, before moving back to Paris.
As Beauvais admitted during his lunchtime conversation with MUBI in Berlin, the incredibly warm response from viewers overwhelmed him: not just from the press, but also from random festival-goers who, in the Q&A sessions after the screenings, would come up and hug him as a thank you, recognizing some of their own experiences in the film’s expressions of self-doubt, survival, and redemption.
Just Don't Think I'll Scream is the opening film of Art of the Real, which runs April 18–28, 2019 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

NOTEBOOK: Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream is an extremely intimate film, almost a personal diary, with an enormous degree of personal exposure. How do you decide to expose yourself like this? 
FRANK BEAUVAIS: I hesitated immensely to speak in the first person. I questioned the legitimacy of doing it, of taking up space with a lament that would be mine alone. Who would be interested in that? So I told myself that, if I were to do it, then I should be as ruthless with myself as I would be with the world I was looking at, if at all possible without falling into some sort of obscene description of my moods.
It’s difficult for me to write. So I forced myself to read for two hours before sitting down to write, so I could soak myself, not so much in the words but in the music of certain writers, which helped me a lot. People like Annie Ernaux, the music and rhythm of Georges Simenon, Georges Pérec… That was all very important to me. I read for two hours, then I turned on the computer and I knew that, if I wrote one and a half page, that would mean seven minutes of film. So I set aside two weeks [to write] and told myself I had to finish in fifteen days or I’d go crazy.
NOTEBOOK: It’s interesting you mention Simenon. His language is very simple, almost as if he’s having a conversation with his reader.
BEAUVAIS: Simple and musical, yes. Exactly. 
NOTEBOOK: Was that what you were looking for?
BEAUVAIS: I think so. Certain of Simenon’s beginnings are just four sentences long but they’re of incredible simplicity and at the same time extraordinarily evocative. I’ve read some that made me cry. Even in his Maigret novels, which I also like a lot, there’s an economy of words. They’re simple phrases that we know will resonate all over the world. But I admit I found Simenon very late in life, I think I only started reading him at 40. I always had an image that he was connected to the cinéma de papa, like Jean Delannoy. But now I can connect him to Renoir, thanks to La nuit du carrefour [Night at the Crossroads, 1932] that I discovered in Lisbon with João Pedro Rodrigues, and that made a connection with Jacques Tourneur as well…  
NOTEBOOK: Your film does end up being about connections and meetings.
BEAUVAIS: That’s what saves you in life. The connections you make with films, books, obviously people. Especially in the state I was in.
NOTEBOOK: And making a connection with yourself? 
BEAUVAIS: It’s hard to look at yourself. When I was coming out of that love story, I had lived in that village for seven years and suddenly I told myself, that’s it, that’s me, and I’m alone. That solitude made me realize I was 45 when I was looking at the mirror, even though in my head I thought I was still 25.  
NOTEBOOK: Did you feel you had wasted your life?
BEAUVAIS: In general or in terms of my love story? 
NOTEBOOK: In general. In the film, there’s a realization of what you’ve achieved but also of what you’ve not achieved—and at the beginning, you say that at some point you wanted to let go, to do nothing. 
BEAUVAIS: I still feel like that every day. But I also think I’m very demanding of myself. I don’t know what achieving your life means. I don’t understand that. The goals I have at 45 are no longer the same that I had when I was 20, and the goals I had at 20 wouldn’t interest me at all today. The cursor just moves on. But, at the same time, I was in this village, all on my own, and I couldn’t manage to write a fictional narrative. I realized that film as an industry is not for me. I’m not necessarily in the right place if I’m trying to write a story that might get financed, I’d have to find three million euros and please a lot of people whom I have no desire to please. I don’t want to make stuff for television. That’s not where my desire of cinema lies.
So I also had a crisis of conscience: what are you running after? What do you really want to do? Do you think you’re a failure? You have to shift your perspective. If I’m not looking for a box-office success, what moves me forward then? When I was 25, a whole page in Cahiers du cinéma about my work was something that would keep me going for a long time [laughs], but after a while you’re no longer chasing that kind of recognition. I’m trying to find a cinema where I can be myself, in an economy that means I can start working right now, without the industry and its commandments pushing the brakes. 
NOTEBOOK: So was film a life preserver or a salvation? Or both at the same time? 
BEAUVAIS: It certainly saved me. But it’s also true that it’s a terrible addiction, it’s made it very hard for me to build a social life. Even if I’m spending time with friends, it means I’m skipping a film that I have to see—as fun as going out can be, how am I going to catch up with the 40 movies I have waiting to watch at home? There’s something terrible about all this, and at the same time it brings you around to time, to getting closer to death… Anyway, what I can say is that after I finished the film nothing has really changed about the amount of films I watch. The only time I don’t watch films is when I’m at festivals!  
You know, I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of Godard’s The Image Book. When I saw it, I realized there were two types of filmmakers: those who question the world around them and work with their doubt, and the filmmakers who think of themselves as God and think they’ve got it all figured out. Godard’s attitude hasn’t jibed with me for a few years now. I’m more moved by Chantal Akerman or Jonas Mekas than by Godard, even if I obviously recognize his importance and his heritage. A lot has been said about The Image Book, and as I watched it I reflected I was looking at a filmmaker who places himself above, and who judges. So I tried not to be judgmental, just tried to say where my rage was. I was trying to fight the temptation of misanthropy I have inside me.  
At some point it’s pointless to just drive the screw any deeper. You have to lighten things up with humor, offset them. Otherwise it would all be a very long gothic and depressive chant! [laughs] If I didn’t have little breaks, visiting friends, moments when I’m in nature and looking at animals, I don’t think I’d still be alive today. If my depression had been non-stop, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here. Happily there’s always something light even in the dark, even if it’s the light of the cathode tube! [laughs] 
NOTEBOOK: But it still is a film about hope. 
BEAUVAIS: I tried. I told myself it had to be. I do end up leaving the village at the end … There had to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Plus today I’m feeling really more confident. When I finished the film I told myself there was hope in it and it wasn’t necessarily artificial. But now I find there are things happening and I’ve managed to look my world in the eyes with more optimism.  
NOTEBOOK: And are you proud of your film? 
BEAUVAIS: Well, I like it a lot [laughs]. In any case I can look at it and own it completely. It’s 100% me, with everything I don’t like about me and everything I’ve learned to love. You look at yourself in the mirror and see all that is horrible but you also say, “well, maybe I can save this,” and I can go on.
NOTEBOOK: How did you arrive to this precise choice of films and edits? Technically it must have been quite a challenge. 
BEAUVAIS: From the start, it was essential to have an editor. I couldn’t have conceived of doing this all on my own. I needed an outside view, from someone else, in this case Thomas Marchand who edited all my films, so I have absolute trust in him. I knew he would say at some point, “OK, this is a bit too complacent” or “this is too easy, let’s keep an eye on it.” And above all he’s someone who likes to play alongside me. There is a sense of play as well in all this, which is what helps when you’re dealing with the madness of it all. 
NOTEBOOK: Is he as much of a cinephile as you are?
BEAUVAIS: Not really. He’s an extremely demanding and attentive spectator, but he sees very few films, though he works on a lot of them. That was also very important, the fact that he wouldn’t have the same relationship to the material as I did. Thomas particularly likes German mountain films, and there were a few of them, so he looked at them much more closely. But I like this idea of being a sort of “relay runner,” passing on the baton, and I hope the film can make people want to go discover the directors whose images I used. I hope it can be seen as an invitation.
NOTEBOOK: It does seem to be a perfect film for our times, where people don’t necessarily discover a film in the theater. You can see it at home, freeze-frame it, pause it, even use it as a reference guide, and you do list in the credits every single film quoted, almost inviting people to print the list out…
 
BEAUVAIS: That was very important for me—and on that note, thank you The Image Book and thank you Jean-Luc Godard! I had long discussions with my producers about the rights—do we have to pay, does it fall under the fair use doctrine? It was all quite complicated… Their first reaction was, let’s not credit anything, and I refused. I wanted every quote to be credited. If I couldn’t credit the originals I would have felt as if I was stealing the work dishonestly. One of my producers was at Cannes, saw The Image Book and found out Godard credited every film but wasn’t paying any rights, and at that point he gave me the green light to credit everything. And yes, I hope that the film will make the rounds of the unauthorized download sites, though maybe my distributors won’t be very happy about that…  
NOTEBOOK: A film in praise of cinema, at an age where cinema is no longer found only in the theatres... 
BEAUVAIS: You know, these days I very seldom find bliss at a theatre. It’s no longer fun to go to a theatre, I can’t stand the idea of watching advertising before a film. Plus, all the cinephilia thing changed completely with the Internet—I can find absolutely anything I want to see. When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them that, for one, I wanted to go to Paris so I could see all the films I wanted to see. And now I can see at home everything that before I could only dream of seeing, and it gives you an incredible vertigo. You just need to press a button to find everything Anand Patwardhan made, whereas before you had to run after screenings here and there—it’s extraordinary! You just need a decently-sized television screen and off you go. I do continue to see current releases, though I admit often through screening links. But I do try to send people into the theater, people who still have an appetite for the big screen, lead them to the films I keep finding. And film is still alive, still available—even if you have to download it from unauthorized sites so that it won’t die!

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