"yo - me": The Spirit of Poe By Agustin Mango

in 36th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Agustin Mango

A simple and quiet man called Hans arrives from Germany to the Spanish town of Mallorca to take a position as an odd job man in a rural mansion. He will soon find out the man who had that same job before him not only was also German, but he also was named Hans. And something appears to be wrong about that person who’s not there anymore. The strange behavior of the town’s people will soon reveal that the “original” Hans left many loose ends before disappearing to never be heard of again. There isn’t much we will find out about him, except for what is told through the eyes and unspoken memories of the people of the town. Strange characters, suspicious looks, and a light surrealistic nightmare climate will begin to build a kind of Edgar Allan Poe-like scenario. The affable and introverted new Hans will end up facing a small town version of Jean Paul Sartre’s “l’enfer c’est les autres”, when facing a community that constantly challenges his individuality by bringing the memory of the original Hans in front of him, pushing him far away into the lonely depths of his own self.

To mention that mysterious first Hans as “the original one” in fact wouldn’t be a mistake, as the film slowly but surely finds it self evolving from a thriller-like structure towards a more profound but still intriguing questioning of identity. Co-writer Alex Brendemühl’s Hans will go through an intricate combination of desire and compulsion regarding that empty place the original Hans left. That mysterious persona everyone keeps mentioning will become almost like an ideal, an obscure object of appeal for Hans. A troubled and scared-looking working man, he will end up trapped inside himself, and will start to see this absent figure as the only way to finally connect with such a strange group of people.

First-time filmmaker Rafa Cortes confidently handles most of his resources, ranging from a perfectly sharp editing to a gripping minimalist piano score. A small film made with great craftsmanship, Yo never feels like an opera prima, though. Closed shots, small spaces, uncomfortable silences, they are all precise movements within an air locked plot that seems to enjoy finding the terror in small, almost naïve scheming. Information is given to the audience when least expected, driving the attention with a steady storytelling hand. Just a few facts about the identity of that mysterious figure are dropped now and then; they all knit a web of suspicion that slowly starts to veil around the main character, and still, a lot remains unsaid.

Even though the constant close ups on Hans’s kind but disturbed face puts most of the weight on Brendemühl’s shoulders, his intense performance holds everything together. Characters, places and objects all seem to orbit around him (a great sequence dedicated to the simplest action as buying a bottle of whisky will turn into a tension peak, a fear and adrenaline rush that almost destroys him). The outcome of such a dynamic is an intimate association between the director and his lead, a duet that will work as the film’s two separate but articulated foundation pillars.

Through the eyes and gestures of Brendemühl, the film clearly avoids depicting him as neither the hero nor the villain of the story; and his honesty will manage to still keep his thoughts a secret. The issue in Yo is not about blame: Hans is nothing more than the tip of the sword in the film’s statement against identity as a positive concept. Its merits are related to the wise construction of a straight shortcut between ideas and story. The film – and what is probably its most remarkable aspect — forwardly goes from a simple coincidence (like two men having the same name) to a revealing insight on the darkness behind the idea of self as an unchangeable and ultimately truthful thing. Yo not only turns the thought that people don’t change into a ridiculously conservative idea, it also laughs morbidly at the so innocent and suspiciously kind concept of just being yourself.