“What Now? Remind Me” (“E Agora? Lembra-me”)
Joaquin Pinto been living with HIV for more than twenty years looks back at his life in cinema, at his friendships and loves, at the mysteries of art and nature all the while he undergoes an experimental drug treatment. He turned the camera on himself and his partner, Nuno Leonel for a year and this film is the result of that. It is also a tribute to importance of Portuguese cinema. This is a record of Pinto’s experience taking experimental drugs designed to combat HIV and Hepatitis C, both of with he has been living with for a long time. As the film rolls Pinto gives poetic and philosophical reflections via voice-over narration that accompany scenes of him and Leonel visiting the hospital, playing with their dogs, working on their farm and even making love.
We see Pinto’s humor and we feel his sensitivity in this revealing self-portrait and what we really get from this film is a look at how to live life well. Joaquim Pinto has had a prolific career predominantly in sound editing as well as a considerable filmography of directing features. He began the idea of turning the camera on himself as a way to document a year of experimental clinical trials in treatment for HIV and Hepatitis C, debilitating conditions with which he is living.
He speaks about the changes his body is undergoing because of the side-effects of the drug combinations, as well as the liability he has agreed to for the period in which he will essentially be a human guinea pig. He has placed himself in an interesting position but one that is not uncommon for those suffering from a long-term illness in that in reaching towards better health in the future, his short-term experience of life is severely diminished. His focus is on taking apart the nature of naturally occurring and artificial viruses, and musing on the life he has lead so far with his husband, Nuno. Living in rural Portugal with four dogs, the pair spend time in their garden planting.
Along with what he is dealing with at present as seen in the film, Pinto uses footage shot over the years of he and Nuno’s younger selves and the community of filmmakers and artists who have entered and departed their lives due to the same affliction. He names Derek Jarman, amongst others who were struck down by “the disease killing homosexuals” in the 1980s. We might say that the film is also a tribute to “friends departed and those who remain”. This is not just a film about HIV; it is about living. We get a bit of narrative tension by Pinto’s dilemma of whether to continue with the drug trials or stop and accept liability and yet, the consequences of his choice either way will soon become secondary to more general insights regarding community and creativity.
We see what companionship is all about by watching Pinto and Nuno who are not only lovers but best friends. What surprised me is the almost methodical approach to life, where the seemingly simple components of tenderness, play and touch – both from their pack of personable dogs and each other – are a daily reminder of the very things that life is worth living for. It is so beautiful in its simplicity.
I understand that the impetus for the film came in November 2011 when the filmmaker went to Madrid to begin a yearlong experimental regimen to treat his HIV. This philosophical documentary charts his life over that time, capturing the painful side effects of both the disease and its treatment. We learn that Pinto has undergone a number of treatments throughout his life, first in the ’90s when he was first diagnosed with HIV, and then again in 2001 and 2004. So while Pinto’s 2011 treatment gives this film its underlying narrative, it’s only one aspect of the documentary. The film is ultimately becomes less a chronicle about one man’s attempt to defeat an illness than it does one about living with disease generally, particularly one that modern medicine can keep at bay but not completely destroy.
The documentary is mainly made up of Pinto filming his daily life and Nuno as he works on their farm. Pinto sometimes speaks directly to the camera, using it as a diary, but for the most part we learn his thoughts and feelings through voiceover. He covers many topics from his personal history, to his embracing of Christianity, to his philosophical reflections on time, humanity, and nature. The film runs just less than three hours but it never bores.
Its length is a direct and justified consequence of Pinto’s unwavering commitment to disclosing the most intimate parts of his life. Also, the repetitive rhythms of Pinto’s daily routines give the film a sense of serenity that is in stark contrast to his underlying anxiety and his dealing with the possibility of an imminent and untimely death. Even the more stressful cycles of Pinto’s treatment—the trips to the hospital for blood analyses, his daily medication—are less stressful than we might expect. This could be because they’re portrayed as just another part of Pinto’s regular life, but also because he seems to have been living with the prospect of death for so long that his experience of that reality is now defined less by fear than by a search for peace and understanding.
Yet we do have a sense of death hanging over nearly every scene in the film and in the beginning Pinto apologizes for his voice, explaining that his HIV treatment ruined his teeth and he still has not gotten used to speaking with his new dentures (His medication destroyed his teeth). As the film moves forward, we watch Pinto confront both his physical decline and fear about a deeper mental and spiritual deterioration. “I’m afraid that I’ll lose so much, my senses, my logic, that I will be incapable of deciding anything at all,” he tells the camera. “That I will lose the notion that I exist.” Pinto’s decline in health is evident but he has had to deal with the encroaching shadow of it since 1997 and what has threatened to overtake him has been held at bay. But with each failed treatment it returns. and then loomed again with each failed treatment. It might continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, by the end, Pinto appears more resigned than when the film began: The film that began as a mix of memoir, diary, and documentary seems to end as a but by a last will and testimony.
Where the film could’ve had either too much self-pity or too much self-righteousness, Pinto chooses to look beyond the confines of his disease to enjoy and revel in a fascinating life. Hew is a man who has always loved the movies and he talks about having seen some of the early forays into porn, “Emmanuelle” or “Deep Throat” in a theater. There are lots of anecdotal moments and introspective scenes in which he seems to dwell on existentialism but ultimately, Pinto has created a unique film.