Mexican feature I’m No Longer Here arrives on Netflix after its digital debut at the partly aborted/postponed 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. Director/writer Fernando Frias de la Parra’s follow-up to 2019’s HBO series Los Espookys, the film is — warning: superlatives imminent — a wonderful, possibly unforgettable portrait of character and culture colored with joy and sadness. And here’s why it’s essential viewing.
I’M NO LONGER HERE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Ulises (Juan Daniel Garcia) is the 17-year-old leader of a youth gang known as the Terkos. Unlike the money- and control-obsessed local cartel gangs in Monterrey, the Terkos are bound by their love of cumbia, an Afro-Colombian musical style which they slow down until it’s warped, distorted and oddly beautiful, dancing to it hunched with arms outstretched, like giant birds gliding over a landscape. Ulises isn’t the head of the Terkos because of his knowledge or status, but because his dancing is strangely graceful and charismatic; he’s renowned, almost famous in his neighborhood for such artful expression. Boys joining the Terkos adapt his distinctive look: baggy clothes and hair styled with chinstrap sideburns and a roosteresque plume on top.
The film cuts between Monterrey and scenes in Queens, New York set a few months later. We eventually learn Ulises was driven from his home when he’s privy to a drive-by gang shooting, and he and his mother and siblings are threatened. Alone in America, he knows no English, and is funneled towards a blue-collar construction job. He lives with Spanish-speaking roommates who bully him about his looks and silent demeanor; he could be aloof, he could be shy, he’s likely maladjusted to considerable culture shock. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t last long in this scenario. He finds a day’s work cleaning the trash off the roof of a shopkeeper’s building, and sneaks into the space to sleep at night. The shopkeeper’s teenage granddaughter, Lin (Angelina Chen), befriends and assists him; she’s sweet and means well, but is so enamored with this mysterious boy, he surely finds it suffocating. But he has no other friends here.
So there’s more joy than pain for Ulises in Mexico, and in America, it’s the stark opposite. He struggles with nostalgia and regret, assimilation and independence as he navigates his harsh surroundings. Can he truly be himself in this world?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This’ll be an odd pairing, but here goes. Frias’ assured and inspired direction and tonal gravitas brings to mind Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre, which was similarly sobering and moving, without being sentimental. I’m No Longer Here also brings to mind the documentary The Dancing Outlaw (a PBS short whose story was co-opted by the more popular The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia), about Jesco White, a self-proclaimed outlaw who found that the world and his troubles fell away when he danced.
Performance Worth Watching: Garcia is a first-time actor who carries the film’s/character’s complex emotions in a single expression. Terrifically conceived and executed as the movie is, it wouldn’t work without his unaffected performance and commitment to nuance.
Memorable Dialogue: “Don’t say ‘verga’ so much,” Ulises tells Lin, unsure of how to explain the term’s, shall we say, vulgarity to her.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Frias’ nurtures suspense not within the plot, but character — we worry that Ulises will lose his fragile spirit as harsh realities close in on him, from the political turmoil in Mexico to the crushing alienation he feels in the U.S. That’s why the film’s time-hopping structure works so well; it works toward an emotional endpoint that dares us to feel the raw tragedy of innocence and vivacity lost, to ponder our own comings-of-age, regardless of how dramatic they may have been. Such is the deeply evocative nature of I’m No Longer Here.
Technically speaking, the film seems inspired by its emotional content. The cinematography is exquisite, and the editing and transitions are artful and expressive. One extraordinary sequence finds Ulises fleeing his American bullies, but he’s stopped cold on the sidewalk by a busker singing a sad song, allowing him to be caught and beaten — this is the essence of his character, taken by the etherealities of another’s art, unconcerned with the crude matter of the flesh. He soon sets up in the subway, hoping to move others in the same way, and possibly earn some money too. Ulises is an artist, and I’m No Longer Here is his portrait. And as his community in Mexico is crushed between the warring factions of cartel and state, as he finds there’s no place for him even in the great American melting pot, we worry mightily about the vulnerability of expressive people, their culture and their vitality.
Our Call: STREAM IT. I’m No Longer Here is an absolute gem, involving for the heart and gorgeous to the eye. Don’t overlook it.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘I’m No Longer Here’ on Netflix, an Extraordinary Coming-of-Age Story From Mexico appeared first on Decider.