(Credit: Pixabay)

“My Stockholm Syndrome”: The loneliness of cinephilia amidst a pandemic

A considerable amount of time has passed since we locked ourselves in our homes, adapted to this new diseased world and lost all sense of time. Covered in masks, layers of hand sanitizer and a bleak optimism for the future, many of us have started working from home, attending online classes and, in my case, watching an ungodly amount of films on obscure websites which slowly infect my laptop with all kinds of viruses except the famous one. I subject myself to an incessant stream of images which flood my consciousness, making me forget where I am and sometimes, who I am.

During one such incursion into the bowels of the internet, I discovered Frank Beauvais’ beautiful and unique memoir, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, that was released in 2019. The French filmmaker watched around 400 films between April and October of 2016 and pieced together compelling shots from all those films while narrating an intimate monologue at the same time. The product is an amalgamation of the personal, the political and the universal. Beauvais talks about the death of his father, grows increasingly disillusioned with the volatile political scenario: he is left impotent, not being able to do anything about the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice, bombings in Syria, the state of emergency imposed upon France, the “Nuit Debout” activist movement and at one point, even mourns the death of Iranian New Wave filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. “Feeling depressed, I indulged in severe binge-watching of movies, trying frantically to escape my anguish,” Beauvais said. “This account connected a worldwide state of emergency, a national one and my own distress.”

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream has become a startlingly prescient chronicle of this addictive loneliness that many of have us have been familiarised with in 2020. To seek refuge from the death counts and the quasi-apocalyptic headlines being thrown at us, we retreat into the protective fantasy of cinema. The pandemic has made Beauvais’ effort even more relevant. “The people I’ve met here love and live in isolation. It’s wise to withdraw,” the narrator (Beauvais) observes. “My only relations with the outside world are bimonthly raids on the nearest supermarket.” Although films like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) have been doing the rounds on social media, this documentary/memoir/montage/a piece of Beauvais’ soul is a much more honest and revelatory take on the monotony and loneliness of a static existence. Unlike Beauvais, I have lost count of the number of films I have watched since the lockdown started. Drowning myself in the legacies of brilliant filmmakers is the only way I learned to breathe. “I discovered a drunken solitude which gradually turned into vertigo,” Beauvais recalls. “I don’t see the outside world. I try to think of it through the films I see day and night.”

Days have started to resemble one another now. I no longer know what numbers to assign to them and the only way I can differentiate between them is by remembering the names of the films I watched on that particular day. Of course, it is only a valid system of reference at the personal level but I don’t care. Language has no purpose in the realm of solitude except in the form of thoughts and the whimsical repetitions of film dialogues. Everything sounds the same after a point. “I manage my downloads, I archive, I go to bed and I start again the next day,” the narrator mumbles and I nod along. “A repetition of identical days, the only variant of which is the cinephile menu. Monday is the same as Tuesday. Thursday is a photocopy of Wednesday. Corridors of days and weeks that form a labyrinth of dark mirrors.” This vicious cycle of staring and then not staring at screens only to stare at them again has reinforced the disconnect between society and the individual in a world that was already so fragmented, even before 2020.

For me, the reconciliation between Beauvais’ fluid recollections of 2016 and the present only becomes problematic when he makes it out of his spiral towards the end but I cannot. I am left watching the fleeting images of immense beauty as the narrator insists, “The apprehension of leaving my addictive loneliness has gone. The need to move forward has taken over. Something inside me still wants to live.” The irony of that statement did not escape me and I smiled. In order to survive, we have to stay put. As the year flies past, nobody is certain about the future anymore and I am still trapped in that self-aware state of devouring any films I can lay my mouse cursor on. Despite Beauvais’ ominous warning, I reluctantly agree with him and prepare for the day all of this is going to end by watching his memoir all over again:

“There will be a battle between my attachment to these objects and the fact that I’ve buried myself under these films, songs and pages and have become the consenting captive. My Stockholm Syndrome.”

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