The opening shot of Chilean director Gaspar Antillo’s debut feature film, Nobody Knows I’m Here, is a blank, black screen. We hear the voiceover of a music teacher instructing a boy through vocal exercises. These directives are not subtle, instead they are demanding and encouraging at the same time. Indeed, this child is a pro.
The empty image with only the sound of a gifted child at work is the perfect metaphor for Nobody Knows I’m Here. Dubbed in English on Netflix (which can be a little jarring but you get passed it after a few minutes), the Chilean film is an examination on the media’s shallow portrayal of beauty, the temptation of fame, and agony of shame. This short slice of beauty peels back the protective layers around a wounded soul to expose a devastated heart that won’t stop beating.
Guillermo, or, Memo as he’s called, has an exceptional singing voice. Spliced throughout the film is the past storyline of Memo’s brief childhood music career driven by his father (Alejandro Goic). The promise of Memo’s talent takes a hard left turn when a producer explains that Memo doesn’t have “the look.” A sweet, chubby kid in a potentially homemade sparkled jacket of gold sequins paired with frumpy jeans, Memo is far from teen heartthrob material. But instead of dashing away Memo’s dreams entirely, Memo’s father accepts the producer’s proposal to use Memo’s voice, while a traditionally beautiful boy, Angelo, lip-syncs and performs Memo’s recordings. Memo’s talent becomes Angelo’s fame.
The effect is a traumatized boy who becomes a timid, reclusive man who’s fled to a wooded island to live with his uncle (Luis Gnecco). Memo, played by the beloved Jorge Garcia who starred as Hurley on Lost, spends his days in silence dreaming of what he could have been. He wanders into strangers’ homes to try on their lives and sews sparkled costumes that he wears when he fantasizes about singing on stage.
While it could come off as over the top, or cheesy, Garcia’s silent, stunning performance creates the perfect harmony of emotion. Long stances in hard-lit silhouettes show Memo a sad, contemplative man. Through these long pauses and his reluctance to talk, it’s evident something has happened to drive Memo to seclusion, even beyond his exile to backstage.
In Marta (Millaray Lobos), a mainland fashion designer who visits the island, Memo reluctantly finds a surprising friend. When Memo’s uncle goes to the hospital she checks on Memo. Her kindness allows him to open up and expose himself in a way that will change his fate. It’s here we learn about the event that sent Memo into exile. It does seem a little too tidy that Marta, as lovely as she is, takes an interest in Memo. Her role as a fashion designer matching up with Memo’s own costuming is a little too convenient, as well.
The last act of the film unleashes the friction Memo’s entire life has been building toward, completing a story that has been so tightly woven together, the film lacks a hair of complexity. The over-thought storytelling, though, is made up for with the exquisite cinematography and a creative, otherworldly ending that leaves us with a satisfying conclusion.