Le Bassin de J.W (The Hips of J.W.). 1997. Portugal. Directed by João César Monteiro. With Monteiro, Hugues Quester, Pierre Clémenti, Joana Azevedo. In French, Portuguese; English subtitles. 35mm. Courtesy the Cinemateca Portuguesa. 128 min.
Clémenti’s penultimate screen role, for Portuguese iconoclast João César Monteiro, is a catalyst within a narrative hall of mirrors with a theatrical company fanatically rehearsing August Strindberg’s Inferno at its center. Featuring multiple timelines, a battle of wills between God and Lucifer, an obsession with John Wayne’s swaggering pelvis, and a dedication to Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, the film is equal parts majestic and perverse, as Monteiro teeters to the edge of theatrical abstraction. For Clémenti, who fully retreated from the film industry in the 1980s—pouring his energy into theater, his own films, radio programs, and even acting in student projects at La Fémis—Le Bassin ’s auteurist rigors were a return to an earlier time. “You have to know how to disappear to be reborn,” he told Les Inrocks in 1998, “My encounter with Monteiro was magnificent […], with him, it was like with [Luis] Buñuel: we understand each other instinctively, without even speaking.” This renaissance was, tragically, also a swan song. That year, Clémenti was diagnosed with liver cancer, from which he passed away in 1999 at age 57.