There are a lot of complex topics being very lightly handled in I’m No Longer Here, a film so skilfully, beautifully made it’s hard to believe it’s only director Fernando Frias de la Parra’s second. A story of a teenager adrift, it touches on issues of identity, poverty, immigration, world politics – but most affectingly it’s the story of a kid who just wants to dance.
17-year-old Ulises (Juan Daniel Garcia Trevino) is growing up in a village near Monterrey, Mexico. He shares a very small house with his mum and two much younger siblings. Most of his days and nights are spent hanging out with his gang, the Terkos, of which he is loosely the leader. The Terkos are all devotees of “cumbia”, a type of music that, in their chosen version, mixes slowed-down pop with traditional rhythms. Dressed in baggy clothes and with hair teased into eccentric styles, they dance in the street in crouched, spinning routines. In a village where there’s not much else going on, it’s something that’s all theirs.
Ulises’ gang is focused on little more than music, but they are one of several gangs in town and others have more violent aims. One day, Ulises is accidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets mixed up in a gang killing. He has to flee the country or be killed. He heads for New York, with a rucksack filled with almost nothing and barely a word of English.
De la Parras mixes up his timelines so we cross between Ulises in his home village and in the streets of New York. In Monterrey, he’s somewhat lost, but he’s at least lost with others, while in New York he’s all alone, just another immigrant, where his style and dancing are reasons to make fun of him or treat him as a novelty.
Played with quiet confidence by Trevino, Ulises is a fascinating hero. He says little but he knows who he is and doesn’t compromise it. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is seeing how others react to him. Unable to communicate verbally, some treat him with suspicion, some treat him like an idiot, others ignore him entirely. Only one, a girl called Lin (Angelina Chen), tries to get to know him. His story could be gloomy, but Ulises’ commitment to maintaining who he is, even as he moves through different versions of what that is, gives it something uplifting.
De la Parra’s talents as a director suggest big things in the future. For one, his film is astonishingly good-looking, Damian Garcia’s cinematography packed with colour and texture. While De la Parra is dealing with heavy political themes, he lets the story explore them and his storytelling is superb. This is a film you could return to repeatedly and find countless new things to admire.
Director: Fernando Frias de la Parra
Starring: Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño, Xueming Angelina Chen, Brandon Stanton
Release date: May 27 (Netflix)