Netflix Now: I Am No Longer Here (2020) - Reviewed

image courtesy Netflix
From writer and director Fernando Frias comes the Netflix original I’m No Longer Here (Ya No Estoy Aqui). Set in Monterrey, Mexico, this film tells the story of Ulises Sampiero (Juan Daniel Garcia TreviƱo) and his dance group the Terkos, a word that means someone who is stubborn and resistant to change. This is the story about how a these teenagers find acceptance in each other as the world around them becomes a more scary place.

This counterculture movement began in the 70s and 80s in Columbia, but found a home in Monterrey, Mexico where it flourished. Ulises and his group wear baggy clothes, shave parts of their head and cut sideburns into their hair. The traditional Colombian music is slowed down, a style unique to Monterrey, and danced to. The dancing features fast footwork, hopping up and down to the beat and slapping their hands into the star symbol, one of the main features that unities all parts of this subculture. It’s such a powerful movement that it still exists today, however in much smaller numbers than in the 70s and 80s. This film is set in 2011, as the subculture is losing much of the following it enjoyed for so long.

This is also a time when the war on drugs is ripping apart cities all across Mexico. Drug traffickers are fighting among themselves, and with a militarized police force moved into the area to try and take control. Fernando Frias does an excellent job of building the tension. The government starts airing messages on all the Cumbia radio stations, and later draws attention to a local news broadcast about a firefight outside a school. Ulises and the Terkos try to stay away from the violence, but it soon starts to pop up all around them. Everywhere they go becomes a warzone, and starvation and poverty create a precarious situation.

Ulises, as one may be able to tell from the name, goes on a journey. The film cuts back and forth between Ulises living in Monterrey, and Ulises living in New York. The first scene in the movie is Ulises leaving for New York, although we do not find out why he left until much later in the film. While violence permeates his life in Mexico, his life in in the United States is characterized by a very different kind of precarity. Ulises works a construction job and rents an apartment with other immigrants who constantly harass him about his hair and style of dancing. The moments where the divide feels strongest is when he is dancing. He only dances a few times in America, once in his tiny New York apartment and again on the street to earn money. He is the only one dancing both of these times, and the bleakness and absence of community is felt throughout the New York portions of the movie.

This is also a film that is shot beautifully. It is most notable when it comes to the portrayal of the Cumbia dancing. The first time we see the dance style that ties the film together is from afar. We watch the dancing from a high and wide vantage point in a crowded space, so that we cannot fully see what’s going on. It builds intrigue as the slow demonic music rolls in the background. The next time we see the dancing it’s a still shot of a dance-off, while a band plays and sings in the background. The fast feet and colorful outfits of the dancers creates a stunning visual experience that is later contrasted with the scenes of dancing in New York. These gorgeous shots make the film not only narratively interesting, but visually engaging as well, while the Cumbia music engages the ears. This film is an experience to watch and listen to as it expertly engages the senses.

In the end, this is a film about what we cling to, and holds us together. The film suggests that we can survive all through clinging to those around us and forming relationships that lift the spirit. This is a movie about endurance, and what that looks like with and without a community of support around you. The Terkos are stubborn and strong when they stand together, and when removed from that support group, despite being physically safer, Ulises finds himself adrift. They hold onto each other for strength and acceptance at a time when both are in short supply.

-Patrick Bernas