IMDb Link: I’m No Longer Here (2019)
Director: Fernando Frias
Writer: Fernando Frias
Stars: Daniel Garcia, Leo Zapata, Xueming Angelina Chen
Synopsis: In Monterrey, Mexico, a young street gang spends their days dancing to slowed-down cumbia and attending parties. After a mix-up with a local cartel, their leader is forced to migrate to the U.S. but quickly longs to return home.
I am making it my mission this year to sit down and watch as many of the Best International Feature contenders this year. Not only is this to help get a grasp of what might be nominated at the Academy Awards, but I am wanting to be opened up to more international films and what each country has to offer. After seeing the film that Mexico turned down, New Order, it was on the top of my priority list to see the film that they ended up choosing, I’m No Longer Here.
It is easy to see watching this film why Mexico selected it as their representative. This is a charming tale that explores the culture of Mexico, both the positive and negative, through the eyes of a citizen. The landscape showcased is honest and authentic, giving us a real look at Mexico and the relationship it has with the United States. It celebrates the culture, the music, and the people within it, but also highlights the struggles that families face including poverty, gangs, and drug abuse.
Daniel Garcia plays the lead in this film, Ulises, a young man who is swept up within all of these aspects of Mexican life. Not only does Garcia give a wonderful performance, he plays the part in a way that I did not expect. It can be easy to go over-the-top with this sort of role but instead, Garcia is more reserved. He soaks in the atmosphere and lets the scene play out naturally, giving the film room to breathe and focusing on the heart of the subject matter, rather than getting aggressive at some of the darker themes and moments within it.
One small, yet significant, detail that I appreciate that the film approached was the language barrier between citizens in Mexico and the United States. Ulises comes across a girl, Lin, who he quickly becomes attached to, and yet they are separated by the language barrier. They find ways to communicate to each other, either through actions, a translator in some sequences, and even using a Spanish to English dictionary, in order to communicate. I thought this was quite a sweet relationship in the midst of all the struggles that Ulises goes through, particularly when he is in the United States.
This film is honest, and yet there are these moments that break away from the harsh reality for mere moments. This is particularly well done when Ulises plugs in his headphones and starts listening to his Cumbia music – a genre that is mentioned by him many times throughout the film. When the music plays, he slips away and starts dancing as if he is on his own, and it is simply beautiful to watch him in peace even just for those moments.
If there is something I wish the film could have explored more, it would have been the relationship between Ulises and his family. Whilst it is touched upon, it is something that I feel would have a bigger impact on his life in comparison to the gang that he surrounds himself with. To see the build-up with his family, rather than just the downfall of the relationship with him, would have given more impact to the story and made a bigger statement about what the drug cartel does to the family of the victims, not just those directly involved in the business.
Overall, this is a touching tale from Mexico and one that I hope people do seek out. It is easy to connect with the leading character, Ulises, and the journey that he goes on throughout the film. It is a story in which the journey is more important than the final destination, but that is the charm of this film. If you have been struggling to find a place to start with the International Film contenders for this year, this is a good place to begin.
As well as my review, I actively encourage you to read these reviews and thought pieces on I’m No Longer Here by some Mexican film critics.
Iván Paredes Résendiz for Palomita de Maíz
Alessandra Rangel for Filmotomy
Carlos Aguilar with a Twitter thread for @NetflixFilm
I’m No Longer Here is available to watch on Netflix now.