“In a digital age…” Love in a digital age. Dating in a digital age. Sex in a digital age. You are going to see a lot of movies about exploring [X] in a digital age. But if we’re not careful, films about the Internet, social media and modern technology are going to come across as surface and obvious. (See Jason Reitman’s latest misfire “Men, Women & Children,” or the indie “The Heart Machine,” which is actually quite decent little movie thanks to its cast, but says very little about relationships in the digital age beyond what you already know: the Internet, apps, etc. complicate life.) So in this film, centered around the sinister corners of the modern information age, identity is slippery and malleable, but not self-made. An identity thriller with would-be Kafkaesque overtones that are often too slight and even turgid, Chilean film “I Am Not Lorena” takes some interesting ideas about identity, what makes us distinct modern-day anxieties—financial debts, technological estrangements — and roleplaying, but renders them a bit flaccid as the picture devolves into an identity theft mystery.
When we meet Olivia (Loret Aravena) she is besieged with debilitating circumstances. Her mother (Paulina Garcia from Chile’s 2013 Foreign Language Oscar entry “Gloria“) is going senile and worsening every day. Meanwhile, Olivia is harassed by debt collectors with the wrong number and she’s made the unfortunate decision to star in a play directed by her ex live-in boyfriend . This choice puts a massive strain on the creative endeavor for obvious reasons. And her inability to focus doesn’t help the tension within.
As Olivia attempts to manage her life as a struggling actress while dealing with the effects of her mother’s deteriorating condition, she continues to be assailed by debt collectors calling night and day. As the calls persist and bank repossession rears its head—even though Olivia is clearly not the person who owes these monies—the strain begins to take its toll, pushing her to the brink of psychological collapse. As Olivia’s difficulties increase, her life takes on a nightmarish tone of paranoia, alienation and fear. She retreats into her acting personas, but also begins to investigate clues as to who could be behind what appears to be more than just a misunderstanding.
Directed by first time feature-length filmmaker Isidora Marras, “I Am Not Lorena” has a lot of attractive ideas that don’t really add up. A current of political, social and bureaucratic discontent can be felt coursing through the culture of South American cinema of late. The indignation behind bureaucracy and establishment colors Damián Szifrón‘s “Wild Tales,” class schism often marks the work of Lucrecia Martel‘s films and there’s plenty of socio-cultural commentary in the films of Pablo Larrain and Sebastián Lelio. Similar indignities about the aggravation of administration, class and social unrest act as texture to Marras’ film, but it’s all a little joyless and airless regardless.
Feeling a bit insulated, the film is sorely missing is a sense of humor. Even just a touch of Polanski-like playfulness could’ve lightened the self-serious tone. Polanski, Gilliam and more recently Richard Ayoade are just a few of the filmmakers who have made horror-esque identity thrillers that also leverage the maddening nature of rules and regulation. But humor is a release valve that the movie never employs.
An uphill slope of increasing difficulties—boxing your protagonists in, so their triumphs must be hard won—is a tenet of all basic screenplays, but it’s easy to overplay your hand and become manipulative. ‘Lorena’ strains in this regard, over-pitching its claustrophobic tenor and stacks the deck against its lead character. A squinting and scowling Loret Aravena—set behind unflattering, uninviting glasses to boot—is meant to be disoriented by this exasperating experience, but so sullen and outraged, she distances and divorces us from much empathy too.
There’s a strong sense of ambiguity early on too, but when uncertainty is removed, what’s left is an inelegant transition from psychological crisis picture to more of a moody whodunit. Olivia’s acting vocation is a nice touch, allowing the movie to explore deeper notions of identity, what our truths are and the characters we choose to play in life. But this movie, sometimes a little too preoccupied with ideas of mirrors, reflections and whatnot, doesn’t ever really peer through the looking glass. Well-considered, with a lot of good intentioned thematic concepts, visual motifs and elements of subtext (that often don’t land quite right), Isidora Marras shouldn’t be dismissed. I even believe she’ll eventually be a filmmaker worth watching, but if so, I doubt “I Am Not Lorena” is the film she’ll be remembered by. [C]