BY STEVE ERICKSON | Portuguese director Joaquim Pinto’s documentary “What Now? Remind Me” speaks for itself: “We talk about lives, about experiences.” These words come from his recollection of an appearance at Lisbon’s Cinematheque, but they sum up his autobiographical film’s approach.
“What Now? Remind Me” chronicles a year in the HIV-positive filmmaker’s life, during which time he underwent experimental treatment for that virus and hepatitis C, but it also explores his lifelong store of memories. Pinto’s methods synthesize the avant-garde diary films of Jonas Mekas and the cinematic essays of Chris Marker, but “What Now? Remind Me” doesn’t exactly look like the work of either of those directors. He’s fonder of long takes and less abrasive cutting than Mekas and he’s far more open than Marker, who was so notoriously camera-shy that he wouldn’t even show his face in other people’s films, much less his own. By contrast, Pinto films himself having sex with his husband, Nuno Leonel.
Pinto’s background lies in sound recording and production. He worked with Manoel de Oliveira and late filmmakers like Raúl Ruiz, Werner Schroeter, and João César Monteiro before turning to directing himself in 1988. His involvement with sound is palpable from the way “What Now? Remind Me” so frequently joins together seemingly incompatible images and voice-overs. To pick one example, Pinto discusses the toxicity of HIV medications on top of images of an almost empty train station. He never seems to be doing this to jar the viewer; rather, “What Now? Remind Me” intends to cram as much information into the frame as it possibly can. It’s a reminder that sound can be as cinematic as sight.
In terms of visual style, “What Now? Remind Me” relies heavily on superimpositions. There’s a sensuality to its images that belies that the generally grim details of Pinto’s life. But the superimpositions also have a ghostly, almost supernatural quality, especially when Pinto uses them to double or triple his body. Sometimes, the film is extremely plainspoken: there are scenes where Pinto simply lies in bed and talks to the camera or watches TV news for a minute or two.
Fake illness wins actors Oscars. Real illness is much less glamorous. Pinto doesn’t stint on images of himself getting injections or having blood drawn from his arm. “What Now? Remind Me” is a corrective to the heteronormative “Dallas Buyers Club,” a report on what it’s like to live with HIV right now. The most readily available HIV medications seem to have failed Pinto, and the fact that he also has hepatitis C complicates his treatment. However, he describes the pain caused by Interferon and other drugs at length and turns to synthetic opiates — with a touch of exhibitionism, showing off his pinned “heroin addict’s eyes” —for relief. “What Now? Remind Me” debunks the notion of HIV as easily treatable for everyone.
Nuno used to be a heavy metal musician and is now deeply religious. (The Film Society of Lincoln Center is showing the couple’s film “The New Testament of Jesus Christ According to John,” in which actor Luís Miguel Cintra reads the Gospel of John to the accompaniment of nature images, on August 9.) “What Now? Remind Me” attempts to take Christianity — or at least Jesus and the Bible — back from conservatives and homophobes. Without fully embracing the religion, Pinto speaks of it with deep respect and tries to get back to its progressive roots, suggesting a basis for debt relief in Leviticus. “What Now? Remind Me” alludes to shooting and recording “The New Testament of Jesus Christ According To John” without fully explaining the project.
For much of the filming of “What Now? Remind Me,” Pinto seems too tired to do more than lie down, either indoors or outdoors, but he obviously draws great inspiration from nature. Marker was famously fond of cats. Pinto includes many images of insects. The most memorable one shows a bee taking a bite out of a cheeseburger, but there’s a close-up, lasting about 90 seconds, of a moth resting on a bare twig. The couple owns several dogs, each with a distinct personality.
Without navel-gazing, “What Now? Remind Me” exposes one man’s life and finds the universal in the personal. Until now, Pinto has been an unknown director in the US. To accompany its release, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is showing four of his other films as well as three first-rate films from other directors that he worked on — Ruiz’s “City of Pirates,” Monteiro’s “Recollections of the Yellow House,” and de Oliveira’s “The Cannibals.” Don’t miss this chance to catch up with a filmmaker who’s made a game-changer of a queer documentary.
WHAT NOW? REMIND ME | Directed by Joaquim Pinto | In Portuguese with English subtitles | The Cinema Guild | Opens Aug. 8 | Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 W. 65th St. | filmlinc.com