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Tom Llewellin

Tom is a correspondent in Canada, freelance writer and translator, President of CUTV, festival producer at Animaze: Montreal International Animation Film Festival  I


Review: I AM HERE - Fugitives escape to paradise but desire stays just out of reach

by Tom Llewellin

A woman who has just murdered her husband walks into a parking garage, where she gives a strange man a couple of cigarettes. Now she’s on the ferry to a secluded Southeast Asian island, bundles of cash strapped to her body. The man straps the bills off, and they cast uneasy glances at each other. They sit on a white beach as waves lap the secluded shoreline, trying to to negotiate and renegotiate some level of intimacy. But it’s plain to see they are shaken by the experience. In spite of the picture perfect setting, fulfillment of mutual desire is anything but assured. 

This is how Vifill Brunner’s I Am Here starts. The Icelandic director’s second independent feature, premiering Oct 3 at London’s Raindance Festival, offers us an intimate, beautifully shot look at two morally compromised fugitives trying to escape from their actions. The paradise they have found themselves in, however, starts to look more and more like a prison. In a matter of time they are due for a confrontation, but in a place where time seems to stand still, when will their reckoning ever arrive?

I Am Here prefers to take things slow. Long takes linger on our protagonists and the mysterious island they have made the site of their decline. The male lead Bilal (French actor Hocine Choutri) is a worn, haunted man. Seldom without a drink in his hand, the tension seems to be palpable as time passes by in such close quarters to Katia, but with little prospect of a resolution to all the sexual tension. Imbued with a nervous, animalistic energy, his rant into the darkness in the film’s first act is one of the film’s standout moments.

Tua Charlotte Fock is excellent as Katia, and as the film goes on her anger and frustration intensifies - she didn’t want her destiny to be joined at the hip to this man, who she feels increasingly repelled by as his attraction to her grows more explicit. She has minimal dialogue, communicating much of her increasing discontent non verbally and sometimes violently. There’s not much she can say, and the island air seems to be thick enough to stifle most words that might escape. One of the questions the film asks is whether her destiny is ever really hers to begin with, despite her best efforts. She is the one bringing the cash, taking many of the risks.

Prunner also has a talent for distinctive visual moments that that convey the flavour of the island setting.. The music used mostly comes from a source within the scene, freeing us to contemplate the soundscape. In a memorable early scene at a beachfront bar, a karaoke singer emerges from red-hued mist to croon what sounds like a note of warning. The couple go to visit a desolate tourist attraction called Monkey Madness, where two handlers prompt monkeys to do tricks, with one jumping through a hoop of fire. Bilal wanders the streets during a religious festival as phalanxes of brightly-dressed dancers twirl around him. A pool scene evokes the spirit of David Hockney’s famous painting of the girl in the pool.

In addition to writing and directing, Prunner is also the director of photography. The Icelander usually works with stripped-down crews - he shot his prior feature The Animals alone. Indeed, as we watch Bilal and Katia’s uneasy relationship turn sour feels in its best moments like we are alone with them. She rejects his sexual advances, and his frustration builds through tight handheld shots, driving us towads a conclusion that’s sure to disrupt their attempt to run from the consequences of their past. 

I AM HERE, directed by Vifill Prunner, starring Hocine Choutri and Tua Charlotte Fock

prod Samuel Bourdin

98 mins, 4K

Hong Kong

Premieres at Raindance Festival (London) on Oct 3

About Tom Llewellin