Ya No Estoy Aquí (I'm No Longer Here)
Terko (Taer-ko) Adj. Someone stubborn, resistant to change regarding His/Her attitude.
Monterrey, México, 2011.
High above the slums of the city 17 year old Ulises (Daniel Garcia) hugs his mother, his final moments in his home town before leaving for a new life in America. A black VW Beetle pulls up ahead and Chappara, a member of Ulises' gang Los Terkos, exits and hands the teen a blue MP3 player. "For you, so you don't miss us too much", says Chappara.
This small act of kindness reverberates through the rest of the film; the player filled with hours of slowed cumbria music, loved by Los Terkos and their "Kolumbia" counterculture, is one of the few remaining connections to his past as he begins life in a new city hell bent on breaking him down.
Shifting to Jackson Heights, Queens, we meet Lin (Xueming Angelina Chen), a 16 year old who befriends Ulises despite their language barrier. However Ulises reluctance to learn English, his stand-offish nature and disdain for American culture all accumulate in a rather unpleasant start to life in the US, resulting in him becoming a vagrant.
As his immigrant life unravels, the film repeatedly switches to the past, introducing us to the members of Los Terkos, their dancing, their quarrels with other gangs and a plan to buy the blue MP3 player, filled to the brim with a multitude of slowed Cumbria tracks.
With I'm No Longer Here, director Fernando Frias has crafted a beautiful film that expertly captures a very specific moment in time. Dealing on a personal level with Ulises identity, unique style and passion for dance, the audience are there with him as the world he knows comes crashing down. On a societal level, the film itself speaks as a message not only of the Mexican people and their own identity, but also of immigration and gentrification. Talking about the film; Directors Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón praise Fria's ability to tell an original story of their home country that has no reference in cinema history. A film that details one of the many revolts against Mexican politics. Speaking about the restriction on filmmaking in Mexico, Del Toro says: "For me the most insane virtue of the film was that it was made. That it got made, because the teracos are stubborns. That's a perfect way to define Mexican filmmakers. We have kept cinema alive, generation by generation by doing impossible defiance and sustaining movies that each of their existence is a miracle. Just like these guys, that are oppressed by so many things, but that understand for a moment, for a moment, they are dancing. And for a moment they are alive, that is the essence of making a film in Mexico."
For me the essence of the film exudes from the vibrant styles of the characters, the beautiful camerawork and the aural juxtaposition of the busy sound of New York and wide-open Monterrey landscape. I've highlighted some of beautiful visual moments in the photos above, however Damián García's cinematography is exquisite throughout.
His wide angled framing, both during tracking and static shots, are a sight for sore eyes. Look out for a particular eye delight as the Los Terkos walk down two streets in Monterrey that are perfectly symmetrical, a shot that's replicated a few times throughout the film to powerful affect.
Ulises' eclectic hairstyle, unapproachable nature and lonely character arc may make him an atypical protagonist. However I still feel his story, and the film as a whole, is one that enriches cinema and is necessary to keep the cinematic landscape fresh and unique.
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At the time of writing both the film I'm No Longer Here and I'm No Longer Here: A Discussion with Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón are available to watch on Netflix.