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I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me (No Voy a Pedirle a Nadia que me Crea)

Dark and stylised Spanish-Mexican thriller about a young man captured by the mafia paints Barcelona as a city you never saw before - from the Rebels with a Cause section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Fernando Frias’ third feature is based on an autofiction novel by Juan Pablo Villalobos. Perhaps autofiction is used in the loosest terms here, if the unlikely and outlandish experiences of his lead is anything to go by – sharing his name to the protagonist in the film, played by Dario Yazbek Bernal. Like the real Juan Pablo, he hails from Guadalajara, Mexico and is an aspiring author, who travelled to Barcelona on a scholarship for doctorate in literary theory. And unlike the author, this transatlantic career move inadvertently turns into a calamitous life-altering event with dire consequences.

The cataclysmic shift, coercing the otherwise innocent lives of Juan Pablo and his girlfriend Valentina (Natalia Solián) into the dark depths of mafia depravity is owed to the foolish manoeuvres of his wheeling dealing cousin, who names him as a business partner. In turn, Juan Pablo’s Barcelona chapter becomes a living nightmare as he finds himself at the behest of mafia lord The Proctor and his men to supposedly pay back his cousin’s debt. Their aim, through Juan Pablo, is to infiltrate his academic studies to get to another student, the daughter (Laia played by Anna Castillo) of an influential Catalan politician.

Juan Pablo’s subdued beta-male aura make him an ideal candidate for manipulation by these maniacal underworld forces forcing him to commit unimaginable crimes. Finding himself in a permanent state of dumbfound-ness as he increasingly becomes submerged in a world so far removed from the bookish, liberal leftie bubble he inhabited. The only positive upturn is the rich fodder for a novel spurring Juan Pablo on to write, and possibly the only avenue for him to cry for help.

At the crux of the films lies a clever jocular crime story, but one that treads on equally sombre territory, featuring opaque, low-lit cinematography which succeeds in conjuring a sense of dread, looming large throughout. Most intriguing is the non-touristic portrayal of Barcelona, the usual sunny city break visuals are replaced with greyness; depicting a darker, seedier, more metropolitan side with events seemingly concentrated in the dingy sandstone buildings and narrow streets of the gothic quarter.

The film’s strong cast, embody and convey the sharpness of its dialogue, which even with its frequent lapses of contrivances, provides astute contemporary commentary. Whether it be critiquing the superficiality of academia or the rampant racism – from Spanish people towards Latin Americans, as well as white Mexicans towards non-white Mexicans.

Attempts to oscillate through multiple genres and timelines – reflective of the narratively mercurial source material – to provide a more immersive experience fails to work fully as one cohesive piece. There is a certain obviousness to it all, a scenario we’ve seen many times over; the whole criminal macabre masking itself in witty dialogue, clever editing, dark humour, and quirk. Frias appears to wear his references very much on his sleeve. The dark, unfussed mood and sequential story telling recalls the works of the Safdie brothers, the TV opuses of Vince Gillian in its intellect and long-windedness and the idiosyncratic humorous self-depreciating flourishes are almost Coen-esque.

It also follows a similar path as Frias previous film, I’m No Longer Here (2019), another sophisticated endeavour centred around an individual who carries the weight of the world on their shoulders, but is unable to be sustained by a convoluted narrative. And likewise, his directorial approach, even if highly stylised, chooses to film from a distance at all times, dampening our emotional engagement in the process. Yet matters are salvaged somewhat by skilful pacing and plot sequencing – again attributed to its book origins – even if not fully successful, they still manage to make this film highly watchable and entertaining nonetheless!

I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me just premiered in the Rebel with a Cause section of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Daniel Theophanous - 14-11-2023

Daniel has contributed to publications such as Little White Lies, BFI, Tape Collective, Hyperallergic, DMovies and many others. A lot of Daniel’s work is focused on LGBTQI+ cinema and hosts a podcas...

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