Berlinale 2019 Review: Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (Frank Beauvais)

Who would have thought that one of the best films, if not the best, presented at the Berlinale this year, in the always impeccable Forum sidebar section, would not feature a single new piece of footage and end up being a fulgurous collage / montage of over 400 movie snippets? With his devastating debut movie memoir Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, Frank Beauvais will undoubtedly enjoy a meteoric rise to auteur fame on the festival circuit and elsewhere (although in fact he has already had a solid festival run with his short films). This documentary essay seems at first to be in the same vein as French queer filmmakers Vincent Dieutre or the late Hervé Guibert’s film diaries, but it is almost literally speaking a quintessentially unique piece of filmmaking that transcends, subverts and contorts that genre, if ever there was one.

Beauvais was 45 years old when he made this film and had been living in a small village in Alsace for six years, too far away from his Parisian friends and without a car, almost secluded from civilization. After breaking up with his partner seven months before, he decided to undertake making this diary that covers the period between April and October 2016. The initial euphoria of post-separation solitude quickly gave way to a form of emotional vertigo (as Frank admits himself in the film), and he who had always been a compulsive cinephile would see four to five films a day now. This film diary was to be the place of gathering and compacting all these films together in an exercise of self-exorcism, to fight a severe depression and frequent panic attacks.

The voiceover narration of his solitary life is interspersed with brief fade-to-black interludes when Frank catches his breath and the viewer tries to catch his as well. Alternating black and white and color, the motley film sources that compose this telluric diary range from silent films that have entered the public domain to Pre-Code Hollywood gems, incunabula of Soviet cinema, Scandinavian erotic films, Giallo, Pinku Eiga (Japanese softcore/sexploitation cinema), German dramas, European thrillers of the ’70s and more.

The viewer wanders from a Cane Sugar shot from the US Department of Agriculture in the late ’30s to an Elem Klimov clip, followed by… oh hello Angela Schanelec with a Nachmittag snippet, to then shift to Christine by Carpenter and Eugène Green with La Sapienza, all in the scope of five seconds! This profusion of heterogeneous images amounts to a Burroughsian visual orgasm. It is a cinephile dream(movie)land that needs to be revisited numerous times. Playing a film guessing game, the directors whose films seemed to be used most in the essay are the criminally underrated Michel Deville (I managed to catch snippets from three different films of his) along with Thomas Arslan and Masaki Kobayashi. Everybody will find something to treasure and rejoice over here, no doubt.

Beauvais hails from a country that is in a state of emergency after the Charlie Hebdo, Hyper Cacher, Bataclan and Nice terrorist attacks. One of the most devastating moments in Beauvais’ film, of which it contains already quite a few, is when a Nocturama clip emerges after Frank has just evoked the Nice and Bataclan attacks. This lagged effect between dissonant narration and images is the expression of the director’s inner turmoil, what he himself calls his helplessness, his dereliction, his fear of the social, economic, ideological, police and human violence actively at work today in his country France and throughout the world, which leads him to say: “Thinking that, I had to utter this scream so I wouldn’t suffocate.” This absolute state of urgency, be it personal or national, political or emotional, pervades and contaminates the very making of the film both narratively and visually.

There is another heartrending moment when Frank evokes the death of his father (with whom he had never been on good terms) while they were watching a film together with his former boyfriend. I won’t reveal the name of the film, I just hope you’ll get a chance to discover it by yourself.

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream proves that the healing power of images is not just a theoretical assertion. This film will save you a couple of psychoanalytical sessions, at the very least.