Biweekly Binge: Just Don't Think I'll Scream - A scream for consciousness
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Just Don't Think I'll Scream, streaming on MUBI
If one reads the synopsis, or whatever is the appropriate equivalent for Frank Beauvais' Just Don't Think I'll Scream, it will seem like a digest or conspectus. But it isn't. Just Don't Think I'll Scream is elaborate, diverse and abstract. It is a filmmaker's essay that is both literal and transcendental. Beauvais' film is like found footage that consists of shots from over 400 films that he watched when in isolation in the remote eastern region of Alsace in France. His lover of four years had just left him, and Beauvais didn’t have to make an effort to lock himself up. The region is isolated, it is the opposite of happening and there isn't even an ATM within a 2-hour walk. The closest major city is Strasbourg and Beauvais self-isolates for close to 4-5 months of 2016 watching films all day, every day. The film might have come out last year, but it is now streaming on MUBI when the world has been under lockdown for months owing to Covid-19.
Frank Beauvais mentions how exchanges are rare, how everyone in the village lives and loves in isolation, and how he himself enjoys the pleasure of living life at his own pace with a lot of spare time and keeping the place in order. He feels feverish when he reads for long and doesn't see much of the outside world. Events that happen in the outside world — terrorist attacks, protests, activism — occur far away from him. He thinks of them, he says. He isn't able to write and thinks it is intolerable to feel unoccupied. 'Consenting captive' is the phrase he uses. Stockholm syndrome. It's also how most of us feel during this pandemic, the disconnect from the outside world and yet the febrile need to stay connected to what's happening, consume news and content, thinking of our place in this world, and what's right and wrong, reflecting on generations of humanity itself, many of us doing it for the first time in our lives. The film is non-stop narration from start to finish, accompanied by shots of films that Beauvais watched, and these are at times concomitant with what he's saying in figurative or literal sense and at times too complex to fathom.
The film then becomes one of the most expansive attempts at Kuleshov effect, only we don't see faces or actors. Almost never do we see a popular face or recognisable performer. The images might be lifeless, but they are also lifelike, the only way to describe his state. We try to form our own conclusions with the images that quickly transition from one to another while Beauvais' voiceover helps or disrupts our attempts to seep into the narrative. Therefore, recognise-the-film-from-the-shot exercise is ultimately futile here. It's not about which film but the choice of shot and what precedes and follows its momentary occurrence, and what we hear Beauvais say.
We listen to tales of depression, periods of mental health and familial issues. We see a lot of dying or dishevelled birds or lab experiments, and we wonder if it is a state of mind that Beauvais is going through during his tryst with loneliness. It cuts to black occasionally for us to take it all in and for him to gather his breath.
From narrating about his now severed romantic relationship and moving on to his troubled one with his father, he changes topic to politics and the extreme right wing habitat he is living in, where they still instruct catechism, and church and the state are welded together. He comments on Soviet and East German films, and ponders about the people in communist cinema, how they question their place and function in society and their usefulness in striving for utopia. Just Don't Think I'll Scream is a similar attempt, Beauvais wondering about this phase of his life, possessing a well-defined ideology and belief system but prone to refining them endlessly, and thereby developing a healthy mistrust in them. It's like people posting a shot from a film they are watching on social media, devoid of context. "Other films are no more than mirrors, windows," says Beauvais. At that moment, something clicked in the film or in their life thanks to that shot in the film and the documentation of this event seemed paramount. Frank Beauvais constructs a 75-minute stream of consciousness out of this, a cinephile's malaise fully embraced as a living, breathing entity.
Beauvais' anxiety transmits itself into the viewer with ease, and it can trigger a limitless spectrum of emotions, especially in a pandemic-ridden world where people are forced to remain as if in captivity. The rinse repeat of routine ennui can seem fruitless, develop anger and exasperation, Beauvais' compilation is a rare example of cinema where the viewer is the only auteur, deriving his or her own reading, emotional response, narrative coherence or incoherence. The title, therefore, becomes the ultimate irony. It might just make you scream.