“I’m No Longer Here,” which won the Golden Pyramid Best Film and Best Actor prizes at the Cairo International Film Festival and was a selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, made its debut on Netflix Wednesday, May 27.
The film tells the story of Ulises (newcomer Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño), a 17-year-old boy living in Monterrey, Mexico. Ulises is the leader of Los Terkos, a youthful street gang in the area. Ulises and his crew don’t engage in criminality so much as they dance to cumbia (Definition per Wikipedia: “a broad genre of popular music that originated among Afro-Colombian populations in the Caribbean of Colombia, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in El Salvador, the Andean region and Argentina.”), drink and do drugs. The young men in Los Terkos sport baggy threads and funky hairdos.
Things are going swimmingly enough for Ulises until a fateful day when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and observes a gangland massacre. The attack’s lone survivor thinks Ulises set them up. The perpetrators want to eradicate the sole eyewitness. Ulises leaves his friends and family behind and flees to the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens.
Ulises isn’t welcomed with open arms to the United States. He’s mocked and ultimately physically attacked by his room and workmates for the way he looks and the music to which he listens. He tries to kick up some scratch by dancing to cumbia in the subway, but is accosted by crazies and hassled by police for permits. Ulises does occasional odd jobs for an elderly bodega owner and begins squatting on the shopkeeper’s roof unbeknownst to him. It’s here that he meets Lin (Angelina Chen), the old man’s 16-year-old granddaughter. She takes an immediate liking to Ulises, but he’s ultimately more of a cultural curiosity than a friend.
Treviño impresses in his acting debut. He brings great vulnerability to the role. His Ulises overcomes a huge hurdle in being immensely likable despite me hating the way he looks. Ulises’ haircut is the worst ‘do committed to film since Gary Oldman and Chris Tucker’s doo-doo ‘dos in Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” I had to laugh when Ulises’ bullies made a crack about him looking like he was from “Dragon Ball Z” despite it being unkind.
“I’m No Longer Here” is written and directed by Fernando Frias, who helmed all six episodes of Fred Armisen’s HBO series “Los Espookys.” It’s not an especially flashy movie, but it’s a sensitive and attractive one. The shot compositions dreamed up by cinematographer Damián García, who lensed much of Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico,” are highly evocative of place and feeling. The filmmakers let the dance sequences breathe, which allows the craft to come to the forefront. This isn’t an overtly political film, but it certainly makes a clear-cut case for asylum and acceptance.