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I Am Here (2014/II)
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by Jay Seaver

"An impressive look at serious instability."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: "I Am Here" is heart-and-gut-wrenching in its first act, taking horrific events and making them hurt more with things that would at first glance have the opposite effect. It's not quite so sure-handed when it starts to actually tell a story around the situation it has set up, but is built on such a strong base that this hardly matters.

Maria (Kim Basinger) and Peter (Sebastian Schipper) are a wealthy, successful couple living in Copenhagen, but the one thing that they - especially Maria - feel would make their life complete is a child. It's no easy thing to conceive at their age, and their most recent attempt has ended catastrophically. With Peter realistically giving up any hope, Maria latches onto a comment at work and embarks on an extremely ill-advised quest.

Writer/director Anders Morgenthaler has his roots in animation and cartooning, and while one would likely not guess this from looking at this extremely grounded film, there are moments which certainly indicate a different way of looking at the material. The scene which introduces Christian (Jordan Prentice) to the film certainly qualifies in retrospect, and there are a couple others from before that which drop the jaw, with one becoming all the more heartbreaking because it briefly gives the audience a sense of wonder and joy before not just leading to one of the film's most horrifying moments, but setting something up which will carry through the rest of the movie, either as a narrative conceit or an indication of just how broken Maria may be.

And the answer to that is "very broken"; reasonable people just don't do what she does later. The audience will likely believe in this clearly intelligent, assured woman doing so, though, in part because Kim Basinger is committed as can be to this role. We get a sense early on of how she was likely a demanding partner even before the miscarriage, and while the character's initial single-mindedness following it suggests someone harsh and unyielding, Basinger soon shows Maria to be quite personable once the immediate targets of her frustration (Peter and the doctors) are pushed a bit to the side. It makes what may be her madness far more believable; she seems eminently reasonable unti you give the reality of what she's saying and doing a thought.

That's what makes part of Jordan Prentice's performance as Christian nearly as memorable as Basinger's; he serves up a visceral reaction without overacting or doing anything that would contradict what we learn about his own failings. He and Basinger both emphasize just how well serious instability can be masked, although he doesn't hit quite the same sweet spot as she does. There's good, if more straightforward, work from Sebastian Schipper and Peter Stormare, though both are in much narrower roles. Anouk Fischer does some excellent voice work.

The film has some issues as it continues, though - while Maria's crumbling is excellently presented, I think the audience will feel a bit less sure once she actually gets on the road to Slovakia, and the first scene which really focuses on Christian alone doesn't just feel like a strange shift for a movie that had entirely been from one character's point of view, but is part of a continual process where the plot becomes rather more melodramatic as things go on, and a finale that seems at best like a seriously missed message.

Even when that's the case, though, Morgenthaler never disconnects from what made the film so engrossing at the beginning. Even as "I Am Here" heads for a fairly unlikely ending, it still captures the horror and sadness of its premise very well. A performance that one can easily forget that Basinger is capable of, then, just seals the deal that this is a film worth a little attention.

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originally posted: 09/26/14 14:23:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

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