Some people sing to get famous, or to impress their friends and family. Others sing because, through singing, they become the person they’ve always wanted to be. Nadie Sabe Que Estoy Aquí (Nobody Knows I’m Here), the debut feature film from Chilean director Gaspar Antillo, is a story about the latter. Produced by acclaimed filmmaker Pablo Larraín and his brother Juan de Dios — who also produced the 2017 Chilean crossover hit, A Fantastic Woman — the film follows a former child pop star named Memo Garrido who lives in total isolation at his uncle’s lakeside cottage. When we first meet Memo, played by Jorge Garcia (best known for his role as Hugo “Hurley” Reyes on the TV show Lost), he is daintily snooping around someone else’s luxurious lake house: watching their big-screen TV, soaking in their hot tub, admiring a gaudy party gown he pulled from their closet. By the time the homeowner pulls into the driveway, the nimble Memo is halfway to the dinghy he sneakily parked nearby, trophy in hand: the sequined fabric he needed to sew the finishing touches on his costume.

Nobody Knows I’m Here is ostensibly a film about Memo’s transformation, though it’s more nuanced than the usual caterpillar-butterfly narrative. In reality, there are two coexisting Memos: the Memo who is racked with social anxiety and the lingering scars of a traumatic childhood and the Memo he becomes when he dons his sparkling outfit, picks up his invisible microphone and imagines himself on stage in front of a studio audience.

Both Memos are exquisitely sensitive to beauty and pain, but where one is distant and nearly mute, the other is electric. Jorge Garcia modulates elegantly between them. The script in general is refreshingly free of clichés: despite Memo’s hefty weight, for instance, we are constantly reminded of his feline elegance as he sneaks in and out of other people’s summer homes. Meanwhile, Memo’s love interest, a nosy but compassionate neighbor who wants to draw him out of his shell, is written more dynamically than most, not least of all because of the ambiguous nature of their romance.

Photo credit: Sebastián Monreal. Courtesy of Netflix.

The film’s playful visuals enhance its emotional force. There are a handful of highly stylized, but fleeting ruptures with reality that are impactful precisely because they offer no explanation. When nobody’s watching, for instance, and Memo puts on his silver nail polish with his technicolor dream coat, the room suddenly floods with luscious stage lighting. It doesn’t feel like a dream or a hallucination so much as a kind of literary flourish. At one point, when tensions are running high, Memo collapses on the floor of his lakeside cottage and begins to retch sparkly pink slime. He keeps heaving and heaving. As we observe from above, the viscous solution spreads in a perfect circle around him like a candy halo, crowding everything else out of the frame.

This scene bears resemblance to another from A Fantastic Woman, in which the protagonist, having survived a transphobic assault, drifts distractedly into a techno club that’s pumping at full tilt, where she breaks into a magnificent choreographed number with the rest of the club kids as back-up dancers. Like Nobody Knows I’m Here, the bulk of that film conforms to the laws of physics, but there are sudden spillages of magic and metaphor that challenge simple notions of reality and fantasy.

The circumstances of Memo’s exile are revealed as Antillo’s film progresses, and soon enough, his quiet recluse life is invaded by prying outsiders. When reality comes crashing down on the shores of his secluded island, he finds himself at the center of a social-media scandal and wakes up to find a news network’s drone camera buzzing outside his window. It triggers a heroic reckoning, the kind you can’t look away from. Memo is forced to confront the world that wronged him, or else be eaten alive by it.

Though the film is punctuated by intense traumatic episodes, it always leaves the window open for a little hope to get in, which keeps it from weighing too heavily on the viewer. In the end, it’s impossible not to root for Memo as he manifests the most powerful version of himself: a glam icon with a voice like an angel.

Nobody Knows I’m Here is now streaming on Netflix.