Maite Alberdi made quite a splash on the international film scene with her sophomore feature La Once, a patient document of Chile’s afternoon tea ritual as practiced by a group of aging female friends. But when a Danish film festival paired the rising star together with Lithuanian director Giedre Zickyte in a self-described cinematic “blind date,” Alberdi was challenged to look beyond her own experience and find a more universal common ground with her directing partner.
The result is I’m Not From Here, a subtly moving 25-minute documentary that profiles Josebe: a 91-year-old Basque immigrant to Chile who spends her days shuffling about an elderly home. As the filmmakers take us through a series of seemingly trivial conversations, Josebe emerges as a vivacious subject with her wit and charm fully in tact. But little by little we begin to sense that something is wrong – Josebe doesn’t understand that she lives in an elderly home, and seems convinced she will be returning to her childhood home of Rentería as soon as somebody comes to pick her up.
Stylistically, Alberdi and Zickyte opt for still tableaux that almost seem to veer into the realm of fiction with their meticulous mise-en-scène and clever editing. Combined with a hyperrealistic sound design that brings even the smallest audible details to the fore, I’m Not From Here leaves us guessing where reality ends and the director’s hand begins.
Yet even with this play on reality and fiction, I’m Not From Here emerges as a powerful exploration of dementia and memory loss that imbues its subject with dignity and humanity, rather than painting her as a pitiable victim. At the same time, the short doc brings up fascinating questions about the relationship of the past to the present, and the ways in which memory shapes our identities, all without losing a warm, affectionate sense of humor.