Sunday, December 15, 2019

Mirror Not Window

Just Don't Think I'll Scream (2019) - Beauvais
I love people who are obsessive –both in real life and in films. Whether they are passionate about their craft, or just plain nutty about a specific thing in life that they are really into. This is why I love Herzog documentaries. These are film subjects who are endlessly fascinating to me. Watching them enthusiastically talking about something they are super passionate about, whether it’s a flying hot air balloon over a rainforest canopy or tracking grizzly bears, gives me a necessary jolt in my life. I take the same pleasure watching Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream. 

French experimental filmmaker Frank Beauvais, after a bad break up with his partner, retreated to his childhood home in Alsace region near the border with Germany and Switzerland in 2016. This is also the time of the Bastille Day terror attack and War in Syria. France declared the State of Emergency and military troops and law enforcement flooded the streets. In the self imposed isolation, Beauvais obsessively watched hundreds of movies, as many as 5 per day for 6 months, made Just Don't Think I’ll Scream out of 400+ movie clips he and his editor Thomas Marchand, meticulously archived, catalogued and curated, reflecting his mood and the world around him. And it’s maddeningly seductive. 

Part compilation film, part very personal film essay, Just Don't Think is a 'mirror rather than window' type of film – a fleeting reflection by way of short visual day-to-day diaries rather than deep philosophical introspection with long ethereal takes and silent moments. Ranging from pre-code Hollywood, gialli, Swedish erotica, pinku, Soviet and East German cinema to countless others, the images, lasting no longer than few seconds (staggering 1,700 cuts – but still fewer than in average Michael Bay movies), feature gestures, objects and actions while never lingering long enough to see the faces of recognizable actors or persons. Nonetheless the images match up Beauvais's continual monologue. It’s more based on free associations and intuition based on personal feelings, rather than obligatory narrative machinery. It's as personal as a film gets: Beauvais bonding with his estranged father, after taking him in because of the old man’s failing health, over a Gremillon film, The Sky is Yours, only to witnesses his death while watching the film. And procrastinating in getting rid of personal belongings he obsessive compulsively collected over the years - records, books, CDs and DVDs, furniture, which I can totally relate to. 

Beauvais also narrates the tumultuous world we've been witnessing in recent times- the rise of Islamic terrorism in Europe, the rise of right-wing violence, French elections and anxiety over uncertain political future and his middle aged, non-committal self even he can’t hide his infatuations for the left wing movement like Nuit debout against labor reforms. In these instances, we can see the glimpse of its creator. 

But mostly, Just Don’t Think is about an addiction to the moving image, its seductive nature, its thrilling suggestiveness or lack there of, its subtle/blatant symbolism…that we, as cinephiles, relish in order to escape the often horrendous reality called life. Not since Godard's essay films, have I encountered a purely visual film that is culled from existing material that is also immensely pleasurable. Just Don't Think I'll Scream works beautifully, precisely because it's so personal. This is what an essay film of a true cinephile should look like.