Nobody Knows I’m Here (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Repressed and detached

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Chilean film “Nobody Knows I’m Here”, which was released on Netflix in a number of countries including US in last week, is a somber and detached character drama about one tragically repressed guy who is still reeling from his old traumatic wound in his adamantly isolated status. Although it may demand considerable patience from you due to its cold, austere storytelling approach, the movie slowly comes to engage us thanks to its good mood and performance, and it eventually comes to an arrival point accompanied with a little amount of surprising tenderness and poignancy.

Mainly set in some remote spot near Lake Llanquihue in Chile, the movie calmly observes the seemingly uneventful daily life of a big, obese reclusive named Memo Garrido (Jorge Garcia). Although the movie does not tell us much about how he came to be stuck in that place, it seems that he has been mostly fine under the care of his gruff uncle Braulio (Luis Gnecco, who looks quite different from when he appeared as the titular character of co-producer Pablo Larraín’s “Neruda” (2016)), and the first half of the movie mainly revolves around how Memo and Braulio work together in Braulio’s small sheep farm.

As watching him going through one day after another, we come to sense that there is something not so right about Memo. While he prefers to be left alone as much as possible, he has a rather disturbing habit of sneaking into empty houses around his residence for no apparent reason, and his uncle does not mind that much, though he points out to his nephew at one point that he may not get away with his naughty habit someday.

Usually reticent and incommunicado, Memo sometimes lets himself mired in his own make-believe world. Whenever he is in his private room full of signs of arrested development, he focuses on making a shiny but tacky outfit from a number of different fabrics, and we later see him dancing a bit in the middle of a nearby forest while wearing that outfit with a pair of headphones to play music on his ears.

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The movie slowly reveals Memo’s painful past bit by bit, which is mainly presented via grainy video clips. When he was a young boy living in Miami, he showed considerable talent and potential as a singer, but, alas, his father, who was his manager at that time, did not let young Memo come onto the stage just because a producer pointed out that young Memo did not look good enough to sell songs and records. What happened next surely hurt young Memo’s feelings a lot, and there is a brief painful moment when young Memo helplessly watches his good effort being appropriated on the stage without his concession.

It is apparent that Memo is still clinging onto what was lost from him forever, and the movie occasionally throws some striking visual moments to reflect his morose wistfulness. While the mood is mostly moody and phlegmatic on the screen thanks to cinematographer Sergio Armstrong and composer Carlos Cabezas Rocuant, it sometimes becomes quite colorful as Memo delves more into his warped state of mind full of remorse and trauma, and there is even a deliberately weird scene when he vomits lots of shiny stuff on the floor.

Of course, Memo’s seemingly inert environment later happens to be disrupted by Marta (Millaray Lobos, who is engaging enough in her functional role), a local fashion consultant who comes to take an interest in him after one coincidental encounter between them. After Braulio happens to have a terrible accident and then is sent to a hospital, Marta approaches closer to Memo probably because she is concerned about him being alone without his uncle, but, not so surprisingly, Memo does not respond that well to Marta’s good will.

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It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Memo eventually steps outside a bit to reach to Marta but then she comes to discover who he was. As a consequence, Memo comes to face his wounding past again, and he also has to deal with his father, who, for a reason revealed to us around that narrative point, is not so pleased about what is going on around his son.

As shifting itself on a slicker mode during its last act, the movie unfortunately comes to distance itself more from its hero, and its finale sequence does not work as well as itself, but it is at least held well together by the restrained performance by Jorge Garcia, who has been mainly known for his supporting turn in TV series “Lost”. Never reaching for our pity or sympathy, Garcia thoroughly embodies his character’s emotionally barren state, and his hulking appearance comes to look more like a carnal barrier for a man who is still an angry and traumatized child inside his mind. Regardless of whether what happens around Memo around the end of the story is real or not, we can feel and understand how hard and difficult it is for him to let out finally what has been repressed for many years, and we come to hope that he will eventually be more comfortable with himself than before.

Overall, “Nobody Knows I’m Here”, which is incidentally the first feature film from director Gaspar Antillo, is rather dry and opaque stuff as your typical arthouse film, and I must confess that I lost my patience at times when I watched at last night, but I appreciated the skills and efforts put into the film at least. Although it is not wholly successful in my inconsequential opinion, it is still worthwhile to watch mainly for Garcia’s sensitive performance, and I assure you that you will never forget him and his performance once it is over.

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