Nobody Knows I’m Here —the feature film debut of Chilean director Gaspar Antillo — begins with a stranger emerging out of the woods. As he walks away from the thicket and into a nearby house, a little bit of perspective appears.
The stranger’s name is Memo. Except for his uncle Braulio, Memo leads a solitary life in a house that sits overlooking a river. This restraint shown while sharing details becomes a characteristic trait of the narrative as it trudges along, laying the tracks as it progresses.
Blessed with a beautiful voice, Memo aspired to be a singer in his childhood. Fate robbed him of his dreams and the adult Memo has now confined himself to an island, skinning lambs for a living.
Still bearing a burden from the past, he is steadfast in his resolve to avoid people and won’t let even a medical emergency come in the way. He may be willing to take his bleeding uncle and his severed fingers up to the mainland, but that’s about it. Memo’s sense of duty ends at the harbour and it is up to the villagers to find a hospital for Braulio.
Acclimatised to a solitary life, he is perturbed by the slightest signs of a foreign presence on the island, let alone the crowds on the mainland that overwhelm him. The only time Memo engages in the company of another person is when he is shooting hoops with his uncle.
Braulio, who knows about Memo’s past, shares a warm relationship with his nephew. They sit at the dinner table and have meals together. He has the freedom to ask Memo about his crush. Yet, their conversations are sparse. When Marta —a girl who enters Memo’s life by chance —asks him why he doesn’t talk, he replies, “I don’t like to talk.”
Not long afterwards, it is revealed that beneath the persona of a recluse, Memo has a thriving inner life. Still nurturing that once-fractured dream of becoming a singer, he fantasises about performing on stage. Memo, who is usually smeared in dirt and covered in blood while butchering lambs, painstakingly stitches together colourful clothes to wear in front of his imaginary crowds.
The narrative, rooted firmly in reality until this point, adds another dimension; along with juxtapositions of Memo’s past and present, imaginary sequences are shoe-horned in between. And it is during these dramatic portions that Nobody Knows I’m Here strikes a chord.
Nobody Knows I’m Here
- Director: Gaspar Antillo
- Cast: Jorge Garcia, Luis Gnecco, Millaray Lobos
- Duration: 100 minutes
- Storyline: A former child singer, traumatised by his experiences, becomes a recluse, nurturing his hurt until a woman comes into his life and really hears him
Everyone has craved for attention and appreciation at some point in their lives. Memo is no different. He may have grown up to become a man but underneath the giant body, the kid who was once denied his fair share of fame, is still alive and kicking. His quirks like colouring pictures and painting nails allude to this idea of him being nothing more than an overgrown child.
Memo’s wishful thinking scenarios also present scope to play with the visual quotient of the movie. Nobody Knows I’m Here, which is otherwise characterised by subdued colours, shifts tones to loud and bright hues of red while colouring Memo’s thoughts. This dramatic quality spills over to scenes depicting his present life as well. Memo literally throws up thinking of an episode from his troubled past.
The plot takes a turn when Memo has a chance encounter with a small piece of technology. His self-imposed exile begins to fall apart, and his life, which until then was restricted to the confines of the island, is suddenly teeming with visitors: all of them unwarranted.
Eventually, Memo has choices to make and some of them may lead him up to the gateway of fame. Having gotten a taste of it, he wonders if what he had wished for throughout his life was what he indeed wanted.
There is an unexplored segue too. Nevertheless, Jorge Garcia’s measured performance as Memo, who is virtually in every frame of the movie, keeps the emotions vested in the protagonist. Having been denied the crutch of dialogues, Garcia is required to convey emotions either through stares and gazes when playing the recluse, or by embodying dramatic gestures during the imaginary sequences. It is a part that requires the actor to tap into the opposite ends of the acting spectrum.
There is a small reveal towards the climax and the movie ends on an ambiguous note. Despite that, Memo’s towering silhouette, the path traced by his life and a captivating title track still linger on in the mind.
Nobody Knows I’m Here is currently streaming on Netflix