Knight at the Movies Archives
Jacques Nolot's masterful Before I Forget is the queer cinema experience of the year, Ang Lee returns with the lush Lust, Caution
It’s been a spotty year for queer cinema, at best. Until now, that is. Before I Forget, a French film written and directed by and
starring Jacques Nolot, which is screening as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, is hands down the queer movie of the
year. Nolot’s film is an unsentimental portrait of Pierre, a 58 year-old former hustler trying to hang on in a world that is swiftly
passing him by. Battling the long term effects of HIV, the inevitable encroachment of old age with its attendant physical woes, not to
mention bouts of manic depression, the disappearance of his livelihood and supportive social network of johns and fellow gigolos,
Pierre shrugs his shoulders, lights yet another cigarette and gets on with life. Much of the film is made up of observational scenes
so long they seem to be happening in real time and there is no music score and a minimum of dialogue. It sounds like a drag,
But Nolot’s film is anything but that (and it’s beautifully photographed to boot). Pierre’s comme si/comme sa attitude and
circumstances are leavened by a droll sense of humor and the fact that the baggage that holds down the other characters doesn’t
hold any weight with him – for long. Pierre and his other aging friends also fascinate because they’re characters we don’t see
represented in the movies, gay or straight. Gay hustlers are supposed to be young and hunky and handsome, filled with witty
repartee and impeccably stylish. Even when they’re depicted working the unforgiving streets we are meant to identify with their
hearts of gold and inner angst. We see late in the film when Pierre glances at a picture of himself young and gorgeous in a photo
album left behind by his dead sugar daddy that he was one of the former but he is completely unsentimental about that past and
it's what ultimately arms him to deal with an unforgiving future.
As noted, much of the film is spent observing the reduced circumstances of Pierre’s world but in Nolot’s hands the everyday tasks
aren’t boring. Perhaps because Nolot doesn’t distinguish between the mundane and the audacious – simple acts like Pierre reading
a book, taking his medication or opening another package of cigarettes are interspersed with a matter of fact visit from a young
hustler that features graphic sex or a quickie blow job Pierre gives a delivery boy and the “no big deal” juxtaposition of the two
resonates and enthralls.
The conversations between Pierre and his cronies – as to be expected – focus on money. They compare the cost of the rent boys
they now have to hire and how much each can be expected to receive from his particular sugar daddy’s will. Fear of losing everything
and being tossed back to those Mean Streets is uppermost in the minds of these aging gigolos. When Pierre’s lover of many years
dies having promised him the bulk of his fortune not surprisingly the family quickly steps in to sweep aside any claims Pierre might
make on the estate. In one of the film’s most unflinchingly honest scenes Pierre and another gigolo visit the lover’s estate auction
and he points out pieces of jewelry, artwork and other items he was promised without a hint of nostalgia for anything other than the
loss of income the objects could have brought him. In a few broad strokes we see how quickly the bourgeois world that supported
Pierre for years moves on to the next beautiful boy toy and how Pierre the realist expects nothing less. Nolot emphasizes this when
Pierre takes up one of his rent boys on an offer to go to a nightclub in drag. Pierre’s “what the hell” response to his circumstances
ends the movie with what may be one of the most emotionally powerful scenes since the two former child abuse victims bonded at
the conclusion of Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin.
“Nothing’s more boring than an old queen with a head cold,” Robert Preston quipped in Victor/Victoria back in the early 80s getting
knowing laughs from both straight and queer audiences. We’ve been conditioned to disparage, pity or entirely ignore older gay men
within the community from the moment we became a community and have usually depicted ourselves this way in our own movies.
Before I Forget, tough, flinty and refreshing in its emotional honesty, a great film with a tremendous performance from Nolot refuses
to go that route. C’est magnifique! In French with subtitles.
Screens Saturday, October 6 at 5:15pm and Sunday, October 7 at 4:00pm at AMC River East (322 E. Illinois) and Wednesday,
October 10 at 4:00pm at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark) www.chicagofilmfestival.com
Ang Lee, Academy Award winning director of Brokeback Mountain and the earlier queer themed The Wedding Banquet is back with Lust,
Caution. An epic tale of espionage set in Shanghai against the panorama of World War II, the movie focuses on a band of college
theatre majors who transform their flair for the dramatic to the political in an attempt to bring down a traitor in service to the
mysterious Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu Wai). The lengths to which this band will go – especially the lovely Wong Chia Chi (Wei Tang)
– is audacious. In a variation on Hitchcock’s Notorious, Wong impersonates the wealthy wife of an exporter who catches Mr. Yee’s eye
(whose wife is played in turn by the ever gorgeous Joan Chen). Complications arise at first but eventually Wong and Mr. Yee
become involved in an extremely heated up affair (it’s garnered the picture an NC-17 rating) that brings with it a surprising test of
loyalty for both.
Lee’s movie, claustrophobic, lush (aided by the sumptuous production design and Alexandre DesPlat’s ravishing musical score), and
a touch florid, feels as old fashioned as the classic movies it builds on (there are hints of Casablanca and other wartime pictures as
well). But two sequences – the sudden, unexpected murder of the traitor (thrilling and violent with hints of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain)
and the first full on sexual encounter of Wong and Mr. Yee – firmly update the classic references for modern audiences. “If you pay
attention nothing is trivial” Mr. Yee comments at one point, stating the essence of Lee’s character driven and very entertaining
movies, this one included.
Hyper Realism/Hyper Drama:
Before I Forget (Avant Que J'Oublie)-Lust, Caution
Expanded Edition of 10-3-07 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.