“A repetition of identical days, the only variant of which is the cinephile menu”. – Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle (Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, Frank Beauvais, 2019)
“Si les temps sont durs et mauvais, pour qui le sont-ils?” (“If current times are tough, for whom is it so?”) – Homemade: Clichy-Montfermil (Ladj Ly, 2020)
Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream and Clichy-Montfermil were recently released to UK streaming services and viewed close to the time of writing (July 2020). Both films take different approaches to conveying the experience of people in isolation, an obviously pertinent subject in the current COVID-19 climate, and both incorporate the apparatus, experience, history of cinema into their framework.
Beauvais’ Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream concerns the filmmaker living alone in a village in Alsace, France, in pre-COVID times; specifically, during the aftermath of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. The film contains an array of footage gleaned from movies watched at home by Beauvais, which he reedited, muted and recontextualised to reflect his viewpoint. His accompanying voiceover muses on his solitary circumstances, analyses his viewing experiences, and rails against the outside world. This is a candid chronicle of a filmmaker in isolation and a compendium of the films he watched to keep himself occupied. Beauvais’ film was made before the COVID outbreak but has added resonance in 2020, where cinéastes and cinephiles find themselves confined at home, with lots of spare time and a plentiful supply of films to stream.
Conversely, Clichy-Montfermil by Ladj Ly is a short film made as COVID spread around the globe in early 2020, documenting a world of lockdown and showing the impact on the local community. While Beauvais was far from Paris, Ly’s film is close to the French capital. The film starts inside an apartment, where a lone teenage boy (Al Hassan Ly) goes about his day indoors, and then operates a drone. From a vertiginous digital video point of view, the drone soars over buildings and peeks through windows, as if James Stewart’s housebound photographer in Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) had somehow acquired an omniscient view of his environment. Ly’s film was one of 17 shorts for Homemade (2020), which chronicled various filmmakers’ lockdown experiences around the world, a project reminiscent of 11’09”01 September 11 (2002), another collection of shorts about a defining period in early 21st century history.
Many viewers may feel their situation mirrors that of Beauvais or Ly, looking outwards at uncertain world events and unsettled neighbourhoods, and then looking inwards and seeking solace in cinema at home. Beauvais’ diary-like assemblage of footage potently reflects the experience of a sequestered cinephile, showing how watching films could be both an unhealthy addiction for viewers and a balm for their seclusion. Alternatively, Ly’s roaming camera ventures out to show real events, reminding viewers of the pandemic beyond their doorsteps. Cinephiles’ lives may be disrupted by COVID, but these two films are a fascinating snapshot of what they might be feeling in these unprecedented times.