What Now? Remind Me (E Agora? Lembra-me): Locarno Review

"What Now? Remind Me"
Video-diary of a traumatic year is epic in length and ambition but compellingly intimate in scale.

Portuguese director Joaquim Pinto records a year of his life in this candid self-portrait, winner of the Jury Prize and Fipresci award at the Swiss festival.

Shadows of mortality hang lightly over Joaquim Pinto's first-person essay-film What Now? Remind Me (E Agora? Lembra-me), in which the veteran Portuguese cineaste captures a full year in his life over 164 minutes. But while the concept of an HIV-positive man chronicling his treatment's side-effects at such length may sound arduous, the result is a multi-faceted, engagingly personal project which rewards all efforts expended. The most widely liked and admired of Locarno 2013's many world-premieres, it picked up both the Jury Prize (effectively the silver medal) as well as the FIPRESCI award. Expect plentiful play at both general and non-fiction festivals operating at the edgier end of the spectrum, with small-screen exposure also indicated -- one brief but quite explicit sequence rendering it adults-only fare.

Active in the Portuguese industry since the mid-seventies, Pinto has been an actor, editor, cinematographer, producer, director, writer and camera-operator, but the bulk of his credits have been in the sound department. He's worked with some major names like Manoel de Oliveira, Werner Schroeter, Raul Ruiz, Andre Techine and legendary Portuguese auteur Joao Cesar Monteiro: he was sound-mixer on Monteiro's
Snow White (2000), a crucial role as that 75-minute film consists entirely of blank screen.

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In contrast, What Now? Remind Me provides visual stimulation throughout, as Pinto's collage approach allows him to range back and forth in time, exploring tangents at will, still photographs fading in and out over the video-footage. "My life is uneventful," he lies in the opening moments, introducing what he describes as "the notebook of a year of clinical tests. A year of forced rest." Pinto's schedule would, however, tax many able-bodied men half his age, as he travels regularly from Portugal to Spain for treatment and spends the summer on a reforestation project in the Azores -- always accompanied by husband Nuno and their four dogs.

Star canine is elderly Rufus, whose maladies and treatments run parallel to Pinto's own. Likewise, Pinto's receives regular bulletins from his friend Jo, who's undergoing experimental therapies. Pinto's instincts are always inclusive and generous, his ruminations generously sprinkled with reminiscences of absent friends, colleagues and collaborators from the film-world and beyond. What's ostensibly a record of illness and palliative care thus becomes a snapshot of how a sensitive, artistic individual deals with the world in the early 21st century. TV reports bring the latest on conflicts in the Middle East and updates on the global financial crisis, and we see how the latter impacts those reliant on state-funded healthcare such as Pinto.

He's also sustained by his work, his network of friends, his dogs and by his companion - and at a time when gay rights and gay marriage are so often in the news,
What Now? Remind Me is a beautifully unfussy illustration of a productive, supportive and evidently very happy union. Taciturn, outdoorsy Nuno's bashful reticence in front of the camera, needless to say, adds his peripheral contributions an extra layer of enigmatic charisma.

This is just one (prominent) strand in the tapestry, Pinto and Leonel's editing of the material into brisk episodes and interludes adding pace and dynamism to what could easily have been a 164-minute slog. There are still occasional longueurs, and Pinto's lugubrious voice-over may occasionally veer towards the monotonous in its world-weary philosophizing. But such concerns are minor cavils regarding a film repeatedly elevated by unexpected soundtrack choices and punctuated by moments of genuine grace. Indeed, the astonishing, extended cameo by an Azores-native Red-veined Darter dragonfly (
Sympetrum fonscolombii) at around the hour mark -- the beautifully delicate bug skittishly flitting on and off the tip of a stalk of grass -- pretty much justifies the price of admission on its own.

Venue: Locarno Film Festival (International Competition)
Production company: C.r.i.m.
Director / Screenwriter: Joaquim Pinto
Producers: Joana Ferreira, Christine Reeh, Isabel Machado
Directors of photography / Editors: Joaquim Pinto, Nuno Leonel
Sales: C.r.i.m., Lisbon
No MPAA rating, 164 minutes