I'M NO LONGER HERE: FILM REVIEW
Directed by Fernando Frías de la Parra, I’m No Longer Here examines Monterrey’s Cholombiano culture by following a 17-year-old cumbia dancer named Ulises. In Monterrey, Mexico, Ulises is the leader of a small street gang and dance crew called “Los Terkos.” Los Terkos stick together in all corners of life, from protecting each other from police to dancing to cumbia music. However, Ulises’ attempt to get back at “Los F,” a local criminal group, lands him and his family in danger, and he is forced to flee to the United States. The film cuts between the lonely life Ulises leads in Queens and his old life in Monterrey, where he is surrounded and respected by the people he loves. Watching Ulises’ attempt to integrate himself in the United States is like following a king who has just been dethroned.
My favorite types of films closely examine the life of one individual, and I’m No Longer Here does just that. The stark contrast the film presents between how others see Ulises in Monterrey and the poor treatment he receives in Queens, even from other immigrants, is a heartbreaking narrative, but one that mirrors the experiences of many. This narrative dispels the false assumption that immigrants, even those who are from the same region, have the same experiences. The language barrier Ulises faces, not to mention his hair and style, is cause for others to perceive him as a weird, unintellectual, pitiful person. In the United States, Americans view English as the metric of status, no matter where you come from. However, in truth, Ulises carries more spirit and freedom than those who have the time to stop and judge him.
Ulises’ only friend is Lin (Angelina Chen), the granddaughter of a store owner who Ulises occasionally does odd jobs for. Lin is overbearing, but well-meaning; sometimes it seems as if she, too, puts him in a glass box to admire his “uniqueness.” Ulises also sees these two sides of her, and although he at first accepts Lin as a companion in a new world where he has no one, he eventually begins to feel suffocated by her presence and runs away. It becomes apparent that Ulises’ only real companion is his MP3 player, which contains every cumbia song he knows and makes him feel less lonely than Lin ever will.
I’m No Longer Here is one of the most breathtaking films I’ve ever seen, not purely due to the shots of Monterrey, but also for the energy Ulises exudes and the life he breathes into the film. Before watching this film, I had never listened to cumbia music, a musical genre popular in Latin America and influenced by instruments of indigenous tribes. Ulises embodies the style of Cholombiano dancers, with colorful dress and a hairstyle defined by harp sideburns and a straight cut across the top. Ulises insists on listening to cumbia music at a slowed down tempo, so its beauty can last longer.
Cumbia dance is what strings I'm No Longer Here together, as Ulises finds a way to move his body and spirit with the music, no matter where he is. When Ulises and Lin go to the library to hang out using Google Translate, Ulises shows Lin old videos of him dancing, from when he was just a kid to just before he left Monterrey. The pride in his face is clear, as it seems to be the first time since leaving Monterrey that Ulises has a piece of himself back. Cumbia dance is his community, even from a million miles away.
While I’m No Longer Here is largely carried by feelings of loneliness and displacement, it is also a celebration of Cholombiano culture. The shots of Monterrey’s lively streets and Los Terkos’ commitment to each other and their community are chilling to watch, as the film does not present immigrants and Cholombiano culture from the point of view of an outsider looking in. Despite Ulises’ suffering, he always manages to return to his roots, grounding himself in a bold dance and culture that will never leave him or his spirit.