'I Am Not Lorena' ('Non Soy Lorena'): Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
You'd think being mistaken for someone else would be more exciting than this

Newbie Chilean director Isidora Marras casts Loreto Aravena and Paulina Garcia in her film about a Kafkaesque case of mistaken identity

An actress in Santiago de Chile is mistaken for a woman with a lot of financial problems in I am not Lorena (Non Soy Lorena), the debut feature of writer-director Isidora Marras. Though the narrative motor is a clear if apparently unsolvable case of mistaken identity, the film is not a straightforward thriller, mystery or even drama, with Marras exploring ideas of identity and also interested in the Kafkaesque aspects of being mistaken for someone else. However, the balance and necessary two-way traffic between the film’s themes and its story often seems too complicated for the newbie director, who here has bitten off more than she can chew. On the heels of its premiere at Toronto, this should do a modest tour of the festival circuit.

Olivia (Loreto Aravena), in her late twenties, is a thespian and thus literally pretends to be other people for a living. She recently broke up with her boyfriend, Mauro (Lautaro Delgado) but nevertheless accepted to be directed by him in a play she’s rehearsing with him and a flirty fellow actor (Matias Oviedo). Things aren’t going very well, with Mauro suggesting Olivia’s performance isn’t good enough but not giving any helpful notes.

The actress simply doesn’t seem to be feeling the role she plays -- and her fictional character also remains frustratingly vague for the audience -- and further stressing her out are the increasing number of phone calls she receives about one Lorena Ruiz, who has accumulated debts left and right and whose creditors all seem to have Olivia’s number. She tries to explain she’s not Lorena and has no idea who that might even be but all the entirely impersonal debt collection agencies seem to think that "Lorena" is simply trying to buy time or pretending the problems will go away if she says she’s someone else.

Reportedly inspired by an actual mix-up of identities that Marras experienced in her own life, I am not Lorena has a potentially interesting premise and tries to suggest what it must be like for an innocent person to be mistaken for someone with debts, because those making the mistake assume the victim must be lying in order to avoid having to pay something they can't afford.

Initially, the pragmatic Olivia tries to have her number removed from the databases of the companies calling her, taking time out of her schedule to go to various offices in person to prove she’s someone else, but all in vain. There’s a good scene where four costumer-service representatives at a clothing chain, idly chatting with each other behind their desk, point Olivia into the direction of a computer that she can "talk to," effectively suggesting that real-world interaction and hands-on problem-solving have practically gone the way of the dodo in a world in which all data have been computerized.

But even though Olivia’s problems keep getting worse, there’s oddly very little tension that develops. Instead of spiraling into something ever more nightmarish and absurd, it seems that being mistaken for Lorena is really just an inconvenience for the preternaturally calm and largely passive Olivia, who’s more annoyed than mad even when a company has found out "Lorena’s" address and started seizing Olivia’s furniture to pay for Lorena’s debts. And any attempts to find the real Lorena Ruiz -- a name shared by 200 people in Santiago -- don’t yield any result except for a couple of trips to a sleazy bar where a supposed friend of Lorena’s likes to ogle the half-naked waitresses.

The final revelation of who the title character actually is feels arbitrary and it’s clear that Marras isn’t all that interested in this aspect of her film. But the ideas of identity and the other that she tries to explore instead in her screenplay, co-penned by Catalina Calcagni, aren’t handled with enough flair and thematic clarity to make up for the lack of narrative tension.

Two of the film’s supporting characters, the actress’s mother (Paulina Garcia, the star of Gloria), whose dementia occasionally makes her forget who she is herself, and Olivia’s cross-dressing neighbor, Rosetta (Maureen Junott), both have multiple identities, just like the actress. But simply inserting these characters into the story doesn't suffice, though Marras isn’t experienced enough a storyteller to know how to tie the smaller characters and their problems into the main plot, especially thematically. And a sequence that cuts between different Olivias in the closing reel is also more confusing than illuminating.

Aravena is boxed in by the milquetoast qualities of her character and is frequently outshone by Garcia, Junott and Oviedo, who have smaller but flashier roles. Cinematographer Eduardo Bunster shoots the proceedings with a digital camera and often with artificial, almost sickly yellow light. This makes the characters and locations look drab and occasionally a little fuzzy, though it does tie in with the film’s notion that we’re living in an ugly, mostly digital world.  

Production companies: Forastezro, Carrousel Films, Don Quijote Films, L90

Cast: Loreto Aravena, Paulina Garcia, Maureen Junott, Lautaro Delgado, Gabriela Aguilera, Matias Oviedo

Director: Isidora Marras

Screenplay: Isidora Marras, Catalina Calcagni

Producers: Gregorio Gonzalez, Josefina Undurraga

Executive producers: Gabriel Pastore, Florencia Larrea

Director of photography: Eduardo Bunster

Production designers: Maya Castro, Gustavo Daza

Costume designer: Patricia Figueroa

Editor: Catalina Marin

Music: Christian Basso

Sales: Shoreline Entertainment


No rating, 82 minutes