Film note: Aging, misanthropic, and HIV-positive in Paris

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Avant Que J’oublie (Before I Forget) starts with a promising premise: the film follows an unnamed aging gay Parisian as he deals with HIV, former lovers, and other challenges of growing old. In the end, though, the film disappoints.

Avant Que J’oublie (Before I Forget), a film directed by Jacques Nolot. Showing on June 25 as part of the Queer Takes film series at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets ($8) and information, see walkerart.org.


The movie has little plot per se, following the main character through roughly a week in his life, exploring how he—an aging, misanthropic, HIV+ gay man—deals with the various aspects of aging. He wades through the debris of an old lover’s death; he frets over the monstrous side-effects of the drug cocktails his doctor has prescribed; he worries about money, and whether or not he will be able to receive the money and paintings another old lover left him; and he uses sex with everyone from the grocery delivery man to an abusive lover-for-pay as therapy to deal with all of these challenges. With this raw material, Avant Que J’oublie has the potential to be a terrific art-house film, using its narrative style to convey the emotional weight of growing old.

The narrative meanders from meal to meal, from one sexual encounter to another, and from present to past without a defined sense of time; the approach is very effective in creating the listless, melancholy atmosphere in which the main character lives. This device, however, is used rather poorly, with very little sense of timing. After watching a naked, pudgy 60-year-old make himself a cup of coffee, then walk across his apartment and read a few papers on a table for a good five minutes, one begins to wonder exactly why one is watching the movie. That feeling returns at the end of the movie, when you realize the director has established very little emotional connection between the viewer and the main character. The character is not a cardboard cut-out, but apart from a few wonderful conversations with two of his close friends (where we learn more about the histories he shares with his gay, well-off friends), both the script and the acting leave the main character somewhat inscrutable. If he has more internal drama or life than he lets on, we don’t see it.

Together, these two significant weaknesses drag the movie down almost—but not quite—to the point where you wish you had brought a book along. Is it asking too much of the viewer to make the imaginative leap from viewing the main character’s depressing life circumstances to forging a empathic connection with him? Perhaps not, but in the end, the pacing and intense focus on building the film’s melancholy tone stops being an outgrowth of the tragedies and disappointments that the main character faces as he ages and becomes an incoherent malaise that floods over everything.

James Sanna is a freelance writer and an intern at the Daily Planet.

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