It takes time to latch on to the unhurried pace and breezy mood of I’m No Longer Here. It’s only after 30 minutes, we understand that the film is not in a hustle to throw characters into conflict. Instead, the screenplay allows us to grasp the beats of the culture, political landscape, and social standpoint of Monterrey, a Mexican city that plays a vital role in shaping character motivations. Akin to Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, nothing happens on the surface. The emotions that generally catalyze a drama are kept grounded and subtle. As a result, it’s strenuous at times, especially in the initial half, to fathom what will continue to propel the narrative in a nearly 2-hour film. It is only after a point, we gradually surmise the film’s inclination towards the free-flowing narrative and subdued drama, as opposed to loud story-telling choices which dramas are habituated to.
Invigorated by Lucid Story-telling
Every tiny aspect of I’m No Longer Here is suppressed. The acting, the music, the cinematography, and every other facet that contributes to a scene, bolstered in enriching the story without overpowering it. Every frame of the film feels alive with a pounding heart, thanks to a calculated, collective effort. Filmmaker Fernando Frias’ cautious choice of keeping it simple, and preference for story over craft, yields a film that’ll stay with you long after you are done watching it. Fused with simplicity, the heartfelt story will win you over. If it’s too lightweight for your taste, the sweeping visuals of lively young men and women dancing at the top of the world to buoyant music will do the trick.
Resisting the World
The title, I’m No Longer Here, refers to the physical and mental state of its protagonist, Ulises Sampiero’s (Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño). 17-year old Ulises, a resident of Monterrey, leads a group of individuals who share a common love towards cumbia music. The gang is called Los Terkos which the cleverly placed on-screen text at the beginning defines terko as “someone stubborn, who resists change in his/her attitude”. The gang is dressed in baggy clothes, sport distinctive (some may say outlandish) hairstyle, and dance their way off to slowed-down cumbia music. Unlike the other notorious gangs in the vicinity that indulge in drugs and crimes, Ulises safeguards Los Terkos from such activities, dedicating themselves to celebrate the music.
Watching Ulises play the savior of his gang, a gangster – with whom the protagonist’s late brother co-founded a crime gang – says “I wish I had someone like you to watch out for me when I was a kid”. It is evident that Ulises is the binding force of the gang that finds solace in music, amid socio-political tensions. The camera acts as a fly-on-the-wall and beautifully complements the landscape, emphasizing the importance of regional landscape to the film in its entirety. Yet, we hardly observe the staging or framing, because Damián García’s camera puts ‘capturing the entire essence of a scene’ above ‘grabbing cool-looking shots’.
A Subtle Portrait
The film’s subtle nature makes it hard to apprehend what’s running through the mind of Ulises, thereby posing a risk of misapprehension of his character and the entire film. Likewise, the character appears aimless through the first 30 minutes of the film. Adding to the burden, the screenplay oscillates back and forth between New York, where Ulises is currently living, and his past at his homeland, making it fairly confusing to follow in the initial act.
The filmmaker never stresses on pointing out the differences, but they become apparent after we get hold of what’s happening. The film is so subtle that the narrative’s dramatic peak – which completely reroutes the direction that the protagonist and film are headed in – is staged with minimal sensationalism. The most important scene, which almost kills its protagonist, comes half-way through the film elucidates the calmness and subtle treatment, assuring us that its story-telling technique will stay sensible and grounded in realism.
Representation through Music
The film’s opening scene has Ulises illegally emigrating to the US, in order to save his life. We are not told why by then. Before he leaves, a friend of his presents him as a music player, pre-loaded with cumbia music, which is the only cultural entity he holds on to as he sits in the car. The scene cuts to the car that is traveling on a hill path, with visible ups and downs. The road is symbolic of the journey Ulises just embarked on and represents the ups and downs he is going to face.
We also see the film going to happier times, with members of Los Terkos get together to celebrate a new member in the gang. They sing about the pain of leaving the homeland, mirroring Ulises’ feelings in the current timeline as he labors in New York. Throughout his time in New York, music remains a bridge to his lively past and grim present, consoling him through physical scuffles and financial struggles. I’m no Longer Here observes the plight of immigrants through empathetic lenses, reminding the viewers about the life Ulises has left behind.
Conclusion: I’m No Longer Here
Although the film’s not preachy by any means, an individual’s perception of subtlety will play the judge. I’m No Longer Here allows the heart to overpower technique, and the result is an arresting, heart-warming tale of cultural identity and the lack of it.
What did you think of its slow-burn nature? What are some of your favorite character-driven dramas? Let us know in the comments below!
I’m No Longer Here is now available to stream on Netflix worldwide.
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