Joachim Pinto’s What Now? Remind Me begins as a personal diary film, a chronicle of his ongoing to struggle to live with AIDS, interesting primarily because of Pinto’s storytelling abilities and his myriad approaches to sound—one the film’s strength is in its selection, deployment, and mixing of synced sound, voiceover, and music—but it gradually evolves into something more. Pinto turns his camera on bugs, a field that he and his partner work, and his dogs, which bring a much-needed vitality to the film on several occasions. One of the dogs, Rufus, is also dying, and if it doesn’t rain, so might the crops. Pinto says at the start that it is a notebook by and for him, but as its almost three-hour runtime elapses, it turns into a meditative pondering of the finitude of our time on earth, and earth in general. “We are not special,” Pinto reminds us, “just recent.”
In this respect, What Now? Remind Me is, despite actually having movement on screen, is similar to Blue, the final film by Pinto’s friend Derek Jarman, about that director’s battle with AIDS and Hepatitis C. Jarman’s film is more poignant and haunting, transfixing in its utter hopelessness, likely because it genuinely unfolds like the final words of a man passing gracefully from our life to the next. But Pinto’s film is vivid and loving, with even the scenes of a more downtrodden Pinto ultimately serving the film’s carpe diem thesis. There are regular ruminations about how nature brought us here, with detours that teach us about syphilis and extended close-ups of various bugs suggesting that humans aren’t any more special than our ancestors or our cohabitants on the earth, just a little luckier.
What Now? Remind Me was shot over at least a full year, and admittedly, it does occasionally seem to be made up of moments stitched together. But when it begins to meander, it rarely takes long to regain its footing. Pinto remarks at one point that filming becomes another part of their lives, one more item at the end of a long to-do list. These scenes can usually be felt if not explicitly acknowledged, so it’s hard to argue that they don’t create a bit of redundancy, as Pinto occasionally seems to be out of material or else fails to suggest the all-important connection he wants to make. The handful of digressive missteps aside, however, less exciting moments are often central to the film’s biggest theme: that we need to keep living even during the most banal and downtrodden times (suicide is only ever on the extreme edges of the film, if present at all), and that even the mundane day ought to be seized. In addition, Pinto tells us throughout that his memory is failing, and both the repetition and the presence of the prosaic transform the film from a documentary about Pinto into a far more personal and intimate revelation, a document about what it is like to be him.
Interspersed throughout are references and call-outs to some of Pinto’s past collaborators and inspirations, from Raúl Ruiz to Lana Turner, and to his husband Nuno Leonel (himself an accomplished filmmaker in many departments; he opted to remain in the background of this one…he doesn’t always), the steady support in his life, always treated tenderly, even during his most tumultuous times. Pinto is on experimental drugs which, among other things, make him feel like his self is split in two, another version of himself constantly following him around. The medication allows for some neat visual tricks—a superimposition in the case above—but while it is ostensibly the impetus behind choosing to film the full year, it is often is pushed to the background. Indeed, What Now? Remind Me is made up of strangely specific things that accumulate into macro sentiments, meaning that it is less about Pinto’s struggles than the beauty in our lives and passion for living. In that sense, it is the flip side of Blue, or perhaps merely its missing images. They are images that seek make a record and preserve it; they are images that present things as they are and reveal hidden truths in doing so; they are images that merely call attention to the world we live in, which, with a camera in the hands of Pinto, is all it takes to show how wonderful it is to be alive.
What Now? Remind Me is now in limited release.