It’s virtually impossible to categorize Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle). Is it an avant-garde autobiography? A faux found-footage film? A melancholic ode to cinema, especially B-movies and rare horror flicks from the 1970s?
In essence, this beguiling and often mesmerizing feature debut from director Frank Beauvais is all of those and then some. Composed entirely of brief clips from hundreds of other movies, which are used to illustrate a running monologue detailing the filmmaker’s desperate and depressing stay in the French countryside, it’s sort of like watching Christopher Marclay’s The Clock while listening to a highly literary, self-confessional voiceover that’s equal parts Knausgaard, Houellebecq and Fernando Pessoa.
A highly original and personal movie memoir.
Premiering in the Berlinale’s Forum section, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream is definitely an acquired taste that will either win you over with its formal daring and leftist, uber-intellectual tenor (which is how this critic experienced it) or drive you away with all of its pretentiousness.
Beauvais, who made several shorts and is employed as a film festival programmer, has chosen an extremely unique method for his first full-length project. Piecing together thousands of excerpts from different movies — titles include Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World, Joseph Losey’s M, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, Bertrand Bonnello’s Nocturama, Josef Von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy and John Carpenter’s Christine, among many, many others listed in the end credits — he uses them to accompany an introspective narrative about how he broke up with his partner and found himself living alone in a godforsaken part of eastern France.
The clips, which only appear for a few seconds at a time (probably to avoid copyright issues), are often hauntingly poetic, illustrating Beauvais’ story in ways that feel both direct and metaphorical, as if you’re watching a dream version of what the narrator is saying. None of the shots are vaguely recognizable unless you’ve seen a movie like Jon Favreau’s Elf (yes, it’s in there) over a thousand times, and we can never fully make out the faces of the actors or characters present onscreen.
When taken out of context as they are here, the movie clips serve to accentuate the utter despondency of Beauvais’ tale, which begins when he and his boyfriend break up, followed by a flashback explaining how his estranged father died in front of him during an unwelcome home visit, and culminating with the filmmaker realizing that he’d better move back to Paris.
Beauvais is unsparing in his assessment of both himself and the people around him. “I’m a no man’s land of doubt and contained anger,” he explains at one point. “My reflection in the mirror inspires no leniency in me.” He seems particularly repelled by the townsfolk in his tiny Alsatian village, where his mother lives nearby, and even more so by the instances of power, capitalism and terrorism that he witnesses on TV or the internet, including the Paris attacks of 2015.
The only thing that lightens his mood is listening to records — like lots of film buffs, Beauvais is also an erudite music lover — or plunging into the B-movies and other curioso titles (with an emphasis on thrillers and Giallo flicks) he watches alone at home. These yield a number of singular images that grace his sob story: a skull rolling across a wooden floor, a cockroach tied to a miniature chair, bloody hands grasping a rock, a monkey nursing a liquor bottle or a man sitting contemplatively beside a river.
The work of a hardcore cinephile who claims to watch four or five films a day via streaming sites, illegal downloads and a massive DVD collection, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream may be one of the first movies to acknowledge how swaths of cinema history are now readily available to us with the click of a button — how moving images can so easily be retrieved, viewed and discarded, but can also still fill us wonder or dread.
Yet while Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream seems unique in its approach to film narrative and history (though it does recall Jean-Luc Godard’s Historie(s) du cinema and other montage efforts), it may turn off viewers who find Beauvais’ method to be too austere and his tone to be too despising, even if much of his anger seems directed inward. When, after much doom and gloom, he does finally escape his surroundings, you feel altogether relieved that he made it out of there alive. To paraphrase Pauline Kael, Beauvais nearly lost it at the movies, but then managed to find himself anew.
Production companies: Les Films du Belier, Les Films Hatari, Studio Orlando
Director-screenwriter: Frank Beauvais
Producers: Justin Taurand, Michel Klein, Matthieu Deniau, Philippe Grivel
Editor: Thomas Marchand
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Sales: Pascale Romanda