Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Gaspar Antillo | Nadie Sabe Que Estoy Aquí (Nobody Knows I’m Here)
the invisible man
by Douglas Messerli
Enrique Videla, Josefina Fernández, and Gaspar Antillo (screenplay) Gaspar Antillo, director Nadie Sabe Que Estoy Aquí (Nobody Knows I’m Here) / 2020
Chilean director Gaspar Antillo’s first feature film, Nobody Knows I’m Here, is now being broadcast in an English-dubbed version (I’d have preferred it were in Spanish and sub-titled) on Netflix.
It’s a lovely film if you stay with it throughout its early long scenes. Several critics have commented that because we don’t know the reasons behind the central figure Memo Garrido’s (played with great subtlety by Jorge Garcia) silence and brooding emotions until the very end of the movie, the director does not provide us with enough information to have sustained sympathy for this gentle, morbidly overweight hulk.
We do know that whatever has happened in the past, his uncle Braulio (Luis Gnecco) has taken him in to his large, hermit-like Llanquihue farm, surrounded by water on all sides, in Southern Chile.
Maybe those viewers simply missed the early clue that the young Memo, growing up in Miami and dreaming of becoming a young celebrity singer with a voice that would make any young girl—and even boy—cry out in joy, is told, after his father’s reticent acceptance, that he is too unphotogenic to take the stage, but will be forced to sing for a handsome young mohawk-haired heartthrob, Angelo, who grows famous while Memo remains invisible, much like Debbie Reynolds behind the scrim in front of which Jean Hagen (as the horrible Lina Lamont) pretends to sing her heart out in Singin’ in the Rain.
While it is true that the action is very slow-going throughout most of the film, with Memo basically cleaning sheep skins for his uncle and secretly reading books he has ordered up by Angelo (Gastón Pauls), now a celebrity hawker of popular, somewhat new age advice, the long scenes which we experience with this speechless being—whose only adventures, it appears is breaking into people’s homes while they are out and sewing up spectacular multi-colored costumes, presumably, in his imagination, for a would-be comeback as a performer facing his audience for the very first time or perhaps just day-dreaming about what might have happened if he’d been given the chance.
Most critics seem to be in accord that he breaks into houses just to have a look-around, while I thought that his illegal entries were, in fact, connected with those quilt-like costumes, that Memo entered others’ homes to find small swaths of cloth and sequined material in order to created his outlandish costumes. Is it any wonder that he is later attracted to enter a fashion designer’s home?
Suddenly, however, something else, or rather, someone else enters his secluded life in the form of a rather plain-looking, but loving and sharp-thinking woman, the young fashion designer from town I just mentioned, who boats out to the Garridos’ island, Marta (Millaray Lobos), bringing some of her sick uncle’s lamb skins to be prepared by Nemo and his uncle.
Over time, Marta chisels away Memo’s reticence, and discovers behind this quiet man someone substance, who strangely has painted his nails with a gaudy, glittery silver, but whips up designs of his own.
Unable to speak normally to her, in order to stop her one day from leaving, he sings out to her is most popular song, “Nobody Knows I’m Here,” Suddenly, and quite by accident, when she records his beautiful voice on her cell phone revealing another being hidden behind the taciturn man.
Later, teasing Marta about their relationship, her would-be boyfriend, a journalist, grabs her phone in search of photos of himself, only to discover Nemo singing what appears to be Angelo’s hit, which he quickly links to a video of the young Memo entering the popular singer’s set after one of his performances to beat him up, and event which landed the young Angelo ever after in a wheelchair.
Now, we can explain Memo’s attempts to remain hidden. The unknowing fans of the telegenic Milli-Vanilli-like performer,* the attacker is a villain without logic. They cannot know—and by film’s end probably will never know—that the assailant was simply attempting to reclaim his voice.
Call me a contrarian, but here also I disagree with the majority of those who have written to date on this film who find the very next scene, after several of these irate fans show up at his uncle’s doorway, as the first of what they uniformly describe as “surreal” scenes.
These scenes have little to do with actual dream-images or distorted views of reality, despite their insertion in what otherwise is basically a naturalistically conceived work. Rather, I’d argue they are simply visual representations of Memo’s inner feelings (his sudden disgorgement of a thick, mucus like red substance that seems to never end), a latter face-to-face meeting in the forest with a drone (revealing Memo’s fear of being now watched), and the long penultimate scene of Antillo’s work, where it appears that Memo has been seduced by his callous father (Alejandro Goic) to make one final appearance when interviewed with the wheelchair-bound Angelo, who insists he has forgiven Memo, while still refusing to reveal the reason for the original assault: that he has stolen from the man his greatest gift, his voice, after which Memo grabs the microphone, beautifully singing his pop-hit with a sudden accompanying orchestra behind. We can easily comprehend this as a righteous fantasy that the man, who did not take up his father’s offer, stirs up to assuage his anger. For Memo becomes obvious, there is no difference between what happens in the world outside and what goes on in his head. These are not surreally conceived chunks thrown into Antillo’s realistic film, but are internalized explanations, externally revealed, of Memo’s actions throughout the entire work.
Just before this scene, we observe a more symbolic scene, in which Memo enters the water, a true leviathan, while his uncle tells him that he should remember that he is a good man at heart, “a large gentle man”—suggesting a kind of leviathan with no Ahab chasing after.
The last fames of this film show Memo, once more in the garb that we wore previously, bib overalls, while lying in bed, side by side, with Marta, whom, when he rolls over, hugs and kisses him.
By film’s end Memo has been able to demonstrate his talent, even if only in his imagination. And perhaps he too can now forgive the studios, his father, Angelo, and, most importantly, himself. Clearly, through this film, he has helped us to all see he is “here.”
Los Angeles, July 1, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (July 2020).
*In 1989, the group, consisting of singers Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, known as Milli Vanili, were revealed, after problems with their amplification system (one recording kept skipping and repeating part of a single line) and the revelation by one of their real singers, that they were not actually performing their own songs such as their hit “”Girl You Know That’s True,” but rather were lip-synching their songs.
It must have been that same year or soon after that Dick and Dee Sherwood invited us, along with artist David Sallle and choreographer Karole Armitage, who were then a couple, to dinner at their home.
Somehow the six of us got into a discussion of the recent break-up and lawsuits surrounding Milli Vanili, with Karole volunteering that it was she who had choreographed most of their moves, suggesting they weren’t very able when it came to their terpsichorean talents. The similarities between Antillo’s work and this German-born performing group are many, except that Milli Vanili used a wide-range of other performers to sing their ditties, several of the singers later sueing the producer and the performers themselves.