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In ‘Shivers’ and ‘What Now? Remind Me,’ Mortality and the Prison of the Mind

In 'Shivers' and 'What Now? Remind Me,' Mortality and the Prison of the Mind

A daring and undaunted film has been awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Locarno Film Festival this past weekend: it is Joaquim Pinto’s new film E Agora? Lembra-me (“What Now? Remind Me”). When I first watched it at the beginning of the festival, I left the screening room in a haze, the film was so rich and dense, I couldn’t figure out where to begin. It has been haunting me since, for rarely have I seen on screen such strong exposure of an artist’s thoughts. 

The film is constructed as a kaleidoscope, encompassing Pinto’s thoughts, doubts, fears, desires, memories… During 164 minutes, we witness his stream of consciousness: his struggles with HIV and hepatitis C, his concern for Portugal’s future, his tireless hunger to film, his reflection on Religion, his care for nature and for his dogs, and his unconditional love for his husband, Nuno…

There is a sense of constant experimentation in the film. Pinto endeavors to convey through special effects his sensations, how his body reacts to the poisonous drugs. In a symbolic sequence, we see his body splitting in two, as a metaphor of his drive being detached from his body. We embrace his point of view as the subjective camera reproduces the countless efforts he makes to stay alive. The image is often blurred, shaky, and punctuated with flashbacks. His juxtaposed thoughts bump into each other, reproducing the entanglement of his synapses, the chaotic flow of one’s brainwork. At night, when Pinto is caught up by insomnia, he turns the camera on himself. He then shares his worries and dreams. By doing so, Pinto immerses us in nonlinear time, where sickness imposes its pace and reality slips away. His illness creates another perception of time, in which the night blends with the day, where hours are stretched endlessly or reduced to a second. 

However, his sickness is also to be fought against. All along the movie, he strives to recover, to mark the slightest improvements of his condition. As he tries to heal himself, he tries to nurture the land he bought with Nuno. The arson that breaks out in the surroundings of his property resembles the devastation caused by the virus. He extinguishes the fire on the land as he exerts himself to annihilate the disease.

Directed by Ricardo Alves Jr., Tremor (“shivers” in English) is also structured as a personal diary. The short film stages a day in the life of Elon, a man in his forties, who desperately looks for his wife in the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil. What binds these two films together is how Pinto and Alves both analyze one man’s psyche, that is to say the shudders of one’s mind. Alves uses a volute motif to represent the windings of his character’s conscience. His own environment reflects his state of mind; the filming of numerous spiral stairs reveals Elon’s psychological imprisonment.

When we compare the two films, we realize that Joaquim Pinto and Elon alike face the shadow of death as though the sword of Damocles was hanging over their heads. The invisible threat is portrayed in the guise of a horse in Alves’s film. Indeed, the film opens with a long tracking shot of a white horse scampering the streets at night; a possible allusion to William Turner’s painting, “Death on a Pale Horse.” In the painting the horse is almost dissolved, barely distinguishable, as if it couldn’t even carry the figure of death. This dissolution is the one experienced by Elon and Joaquim Pinto. Each of them is confronted to absence, but they experience it on a different level. For Pinto it is an inner absence whereas Elon has to deal with the absence of another.

Click here for more on Ingrid Raison and this year’s Critics Academy.

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