At one point during Joaquim Pinto’s What Now? Remind Me his confessional style got so raw and introspective that all I wanted to do was look the other way. His story is one that I felt I should’ve been more receptive to since he is a gay filmmaker with a deep passion for the arts and culture. Listening to him talk about an ancient book he saw in Spain, how badly he wanted to inspect it, reminded me of the way I feel about certain artworks. Watching him farm with his husband Nuno (who I felt was so my type) and their dogs, inspired in me a sense of domestic bliss I sometimes crave. What made me want to look away then? The way in which Pinto tells us about his harrowing battle with HIV.
Even if we live in a world of information, where everything we might want to know is a click away, the movies - and media in general - have done so little to discuss HIV that I’m ashamed to admit sometimes I react to it the same way conservative audiences react with onscreen sex: it makes me uncomfortable. I had this very thought during the screening and was instantly reminded of the movie I’d seen the day before, Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake.
Both movies deal with gay characters and, in a way, both are about HIV. In Lake, this is done only in an allegorical way, as we watch the characters of his cruisy-lake leave behind their better judgment in the name of lust, on several occasions we see characters refuse to wear condoms and knowingly dive into casual sex with strangers. One could even argue and make a case that Lake is about the part of the gay community that defies the existence of HIV and takes on an “I know it exists but it’ll never happen to me” mentality.
Pinto sums this beautifully when he says “we live in fluid times but simple ideas still sell best”. One of the most admirable elements of his documentary is that we never see it turn into a pity fest. He’s a self-acknowledged cautionary tale, however he is more interested in staying alive than in wondering how he got to where he is. “When we go back, life seems fragile and death certain” he says and we can actually see him - in archival footage - spending time in resorts that can’t help but remind us of the setting of Lake, some of his earliest movies even share similar imagery and he tells tales of how much he enjoyed his youth until his closest friend started dying. None of this is meant to suggest that either movie is preachy or meant to be taken as a lesson. I guess that as a gay cinephile, it was just extremely surprising for me to see two movies so different yet so alike, that forced me to see beyond my comfort zone and deal with issues that should be closer to me. As separate entities the films are brilliant, but together I felt a synergy between them that should make them required viewing for anyone interested in queer cinema, or just how beautifully complex humans can be for that matter.
I hope I made some sense with this - because I loved both movies - but in any case I recommend you seek them and come back to discuss with us. Did you see similar themes in both films? Have the arts done justice to living in a post-HIV world?
Stranger by the Lake plays 09/30 and 10/02, What Now? Remind Me plays on 09/28 and 10/01.