Lies, shame and alienation are at the heart of Julia Solomonoff’s seductively tragic Nobody’s Watching (Nadie Nos Mira), a tale of two identities which confronts the shortcomings of immigration policies head-on. Exposing the tantalizing brutality of iconic cities and the hostility of cliques and Procrustean social norms, the motion picture is a must-see of this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival. And an unparalleled depiction of the Big Apple and its cutthroat nature.
Life has not been too hard for privileged and highly-acclaimed Nico Lencke (Guillermo Pfening). The man is a renowned actor of Buenos Aires, part of one of the most beloved soap operas in Argentina. He is rich, adored by fans, ignorant to important social issues and oblivious to his own entitlement. But after a messy and borderline abusive romantic relationship with an older man named Martin (Rafael Ferro), Nico decides to escape to New York City in hopes of changing his life and garnering the same amount of success there. Unfortunately, his plan is far from feasible, as Nico also soon realizes. The TV star cannot find a decent acting job, he no longer has any of his former privileges and he barely makes it by without stealing food.
The young actor ends up waiting tables at a restaurant of the kind he would usually frequent back home in Argentina. His pride is crushed when he is forced to accept employment as a nanny after his friend, Andrea (Elena Roger), offers him the opportunity. Soon, Nico becomes ashamed of his past and tired of not fitting in so he tries to keep his life in order (at least as far as others are concerned) through deceit. Pfening delivers a slow-burning and truly heartbreaking performance as he keeps the viewer rooting for his character up until the very last minute. As the movie progresses, Nico’s strong expression loses more and more of its stoicism. The film’s final shots reveal a defeated, humiliated soul who cannot recover the man he once was.
Solomonoff’s film is marked by contrast and a sense of dissolution. The drama depicts the extremes of both success and collapse, wealth and poverty, as well as truth and deceit. The failures of the past clash with the hopes and dreams of the future, while the warmth, candor and lightness of Argentina’s capital is set in opposition to New York’s bittersweet and bloodless essence. The latter is a whirlwind of exhilarating experiences, ruthless people and unique life lessons that thrust Nico headfirst into the reality of today’s society, its inhibitions, prejudice and limiting beliefs. There is an inescapable sense of suspension all throughout the narrative plot which allows the viewer to see the world through the protagonist’s eyes as he dawdles his way through life.
The motion picture tackles the topic of immigration in a refreshing and resourceful manner, one which focuses more on the internal, subtle effects of poor policies, as opposed to the outright disastrous aftermath of faulty immigration regulations. One such effect is Nico’s fascinating, but equally painful to witness double life. The man has constructed a web of lies so intricate and harrowing that the truth about who he is and his innate authenticity is lost even to himself. This process of relinquishing one’s identity starts off slow in Nico’s case – at first there are only a few white lies (like the one he tells his mother to cover up for his job at a bar), but soon the foreigner begins to shop lift and to bury his past in lies for fear of being judged or hurt. Solomonoff’s strength and talent lie in her ability to recognize and accurately depict discrimination in its latent forms. As such, the film does not contain instances of undeniable bigotry, but is rather seething with tidbits of sexism, low-key racist attitudes and quiet homophobia. Although these behaviors may seem miniscule by comparison to some of the horrors in history, their effect is clear – they slowly erode through self-esteem and human decency and progressively damage those unfortunate enough to encounter it.
Nobody’s Watching (Nadie Nos Mira) is a quiet, sincere and didactic depiction of the shortcomings of immigration and the loss of privilege. Slow, but brutally straightforward and intense, the film is one of Melbourne Queer Festival’s most stunning additions. Solomonoff offers a barefaced account of the uncanny demands that the American Dream imposes onto Latinos, and Pfening sets the bar even higher through his magnetic, riveting presence on screen.