Forty years ago, some members of the gay community took issue with the parade of self-pitying, self-hating queens in Mart Crowley's play (and subsequent film) The Boys In The Band, but is there really that much distance between Crowley's lonely New Yorkers and the network of Parisian hustlers and ex-hustlers in Jacques Nolot's more aesthetically respectable Before I Forget? As he did in his films Porn Theater and Hinterland, Nolot casts himself in Before I Forget as a retired, HIV-infected lothario approaching his golden years with a mixture of dread and resignation. He spends his days commiserating with old friends about the price of prostitutes and how the world they knew is collapsing, and his nights staring at an unfinished manuscript and worrying about what kind of legacy he's going to leave behind. Nearly everyone in the film is bitter and loveless, governed by desires and self-absorption. It's hardly a rosy picture of what it's like to be gay and 60 in Paris.
But it's an engrossing picture. Nolot puts viewers in his protagonist's head, via long monologues delivered to his therapist or shots of him padding thoughtfully around his apartment. (In one of the film's more moving moments, Nolot re-reads an old letter, and repeats its date, "July '85," marveling at how time passes.) Before I Forget veers from long silences to stretches of dense chattiness, in which Nolot's character holds back nothing about who he's been screwing or how he's been feeling. But all the talk is just scene-setting for Nolot's real interest: showing how even an admitted wastrel takes up physical space in the world. Nolot trains the camera on himself for nearly the entire film, whether he's lying on a couch that's lost definition in the armrests where he's sunk his head and legs day after day, or humoring a young lover by putting on a dress and walking the street again, reliving his past. In nearly every case, Nolot shows himself as defeated, humiliated, and humbled by his own compulsions.