“Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” is a montage of clips from movies that the filmmkaer watched while isolated in France after a breakup. Courtesy of KimStim

A middle-aged man sits alone in forced isolation fighting depression by drinking too much and watching an ungodly number of movies. No, it’s not “The Dennis Perkins COVID Story.” But the way that writer-director Frank Beauvais’ nigh-uncategorizable film “Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” plays out, this mesmerizingly odd and affecting 2019 film is almost unsettling in its anticipation of how certain people have weathered a truly terrible year. 

Streaming thanks to Portland’s Apohadion Theater, “Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” is the project undertaken by French filmmaker Beauvais after his own, eerily prescient period of forced isolation and increasing disconnection from the world of actual people. That Beauvais’ tale of maddening loneliness is inextricably tied to the movies is just the autobiographical touch that will make any similarly suffering film fanatic viewer’s mouth go dry in recognition. Sometimes, movies are fun. Other times, they are our survival. 

Beauvais lays out his situation immediately in the poetically self-absorbed narration that is the only sound throughout “Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream’s” head-spinning 75 minutes. Having moved to the provincial Alsace region of France in order to save money and be closer to his boyfriend, the two lovers break up, leaving the middle-aged Beauvais alone in a place where the locals are indifferent and distant (the Alsatians’ adherence to their insular dialect is further alienating), the nearest train station is 30 miles off (and Beauvais doesn’t drive), and there are no buses or even an ATM within easy distance. There, as Beauvais puts it at the start of his cinematic journey, “I watched over 400 films between April and October, 2016.”

Now, the movie freak in me first stands up and salutes the achievement – just think what his Flickchart would look like. But it becomes readily apparent through Beauvais’ monologue that his time sequestered alone with thousands upon thousands of mail-ordered DVDs and even more (legally and illegally) downloaded films from around the world isn’t so much a pastime, as an obsession. And perhaps not even with film. 

The sole visual component of “Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” comes from that obsession, as Beauvais’ narration unspools over hundreds and hundreds of clips culled from each of those 400 movies. Lasting no more than five or so seconds, each snippet has been selected and assembled by Beauvais and his intrepid editor, Thomas Marchand, into a truly dizzying montage meant to illustrate – something – about the events and thoughts Beauvais is relating. 

It’s a prankish idea rendered nearly impenetrable in practice. (That I am regrettably reliant on subtitles doesn’t help.) As far as shut-in creative exercises a film obsessive would come up with during a time of intense depression and unwilling lockdown, it’s an idea so fruitfully weird that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it in the year of our stultifying ennui, 2020. But it’s probably for the best for this middle-aged, depressive-obsessive, since Beauvais’ daily routine of watching, cataloguing, and mentally snatching just the right, idiosyncratically chosen clips seems to have brought the filmmaker no peace whatsoever. 

A filmmaker with a different sensibility might have used his selection of snippets to provide humorous counterpoint to his words, or to heighten viewers’ connection by juxtaposing well-known faces and scenes to his ever-present lament. But the clips Beauvais picks are almost unrecognizable, even – and I say this from my own prison of film fanaticism – to somebody who’s watched an unhealthy number of movies himself. Sure, Beauvais’ deep dive into barely legal downloads of world cinema tends toward the obscure (at one point, he describes a three-day sprint downloading over 100 unknown Soviet-era films), but a diligent crawl of every single film represented in “Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” (representing three full minutes of the movie’s running time) includes everything from “Popstar: Never Stop Stopping” to “Green Room” to “Road Games” to “You Can Count On Me.” I’ve seen them all and couldn’t point out where in this film’s stitched-together assemblage they fall. 

Ultimately, “Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” is less a celebration of movies by a fan, and more a feverish depiction of how a film obsessive can sometimes only truly relate to reality through them. Events in Beauvais’ life (the shocking death of his estranged father, unexpected visits from Parisian friends, his ex-lover’s brief stayover to help remove some nasty Russian malware from the computer) are dissected with care and lonely prose that’s as affecting as it is solipsistic. (Beauvais comes off as something of a self-impressed snob, especially when discussing his Alsatian neighbors.) His choice of borrowed imagery is no doubt as carefully thought out, although there’s precious little in the way of payoff for the viewer. Horrific news from the wider world (bombings, terrorism, government and media scapegoating, racism, capitalism, an unnamed but “chilling” 2016 election result) is rendered in either graphic prosaicness (a child picking up a grenade, a bloody hand writhing from the ground), or in evocative obscurity. (Plus, Beauvais cuts to dead animals at the drop of a hat.) 

I smiled at some of Beauvais’ few obvious jokes. An uninvited old acquaintance’s own self-obsessed jabber is illustrated by a shot of an obviously male crotch thrusting fruitlessly in the air. And it’s difficult not to be drawn into what was clearly a filmmaker’s dangerous brush with near-madness, his impotent rage at the world and his circumstances occasionally admitting some much-needed clarity about his own complicity in his unhappiness. (The post-film credits are accompanied by Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s achingly dirge-like “I See a Darkness,” the film’s only sound other than Beauvais’ voice, and a prime example of my go-to genre of, as coined by Nick Hornby, “old, sad bastard music.”)

And then there are the movies. Chopped to bits and laid down in a mosaic illustrating one lonely man’s experience, their unaccustomed use as mere tools in one filmmaker’s own bewilderingly dense narrative rendering them something other than what they are. Something lesser, maybe, but certainly something fascinating.

“Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream” is screening virtually through the Apohadion Theater’s website. Tickets are $12, with part of the proceeds going directly toward keeping this essential Portland movie and performance space alive. You get a number of days to watch the film after you purchase – and you’ll need them to rewatch it for all you missed the first time. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

Some of the films are more obscure than others, but all just as unrecognizable. Courtesy of KimStim

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