Identity is everything and nothing in “Me,” a meticulously crafted drama that reps a more than respectable feature debut for helmer Rafa Cortes but, like its protag, loses its way by the second half. Co-scripted by star Alex Brendemuehl, the pic immerses itself in the hermetic world of a small town in Majorca where a new arrival without a past becomes subsumed by the personality of his predecessor. Film’s central mystery is dropped along with several side characters, and Cortes pushes the ominous beyond sustainability, but his burgeoning talent is undeniable (pic won the Rotterdam Fipresci prize) and fest life should hold steady.
Man without a past Hans (Brendemuehl) arrives in Majorca to work as handyman for fellow German property owner Tanca (Heinz Hoenig). The locals aren’t exactly friendly to outsiders, but he’s eager to please and tries to make acquaintances at the town cafe.
No one seems able or willing to tell him exactly what happened to his predecessor, also called Hans, though the first Hans’ stuff remains in the house he’s given and the insistent, possibly senile Miquelet (Rafel Ramis) believes he’ll be back at any moment. Certainly the previous Hans is on the run, not just from his affair with barmaid Catalina (Marga Grimalt) but from something more troubling.No certainty exists in Hans’ present, and Cortes deliberately withholds any information about his past. Faced with a jumble of facts and imagination, Hans loses his individuality to what he perceives others expected of his predecessor.
With tight introductory shots of exterior walls and doors, the attention-grabbing opening immediately plays with expectation, suggesting one scenario (an abandoned village) when the truth (it’s lunch/siesta time in the Mediterranean) is usually more mundane.
Similarly, the screenplay blurs the lines of real and perceived, so that Hans develops an almost paranoid conception of the previous tenant which transforms itself into emulation. It’s a difficult balancing act to control, and Cortes and Brendemuehl are only partly successful. They push the air of malevolence beyond the bounds of necessity (dissonant piano music furthers their goal), and a subplot about a missing whisky bottle is given too much importance. But Brendemuehl plays it beautifully — the perfect blank book that allows for any number of interpretations.
Cortes conceives the lensing with painstaking rigidity, limiting himself not only to close-up and medium shots but filming it entirely from Hans’ right-hand side. Again playing against expectation of a sun-drenched holiday island, he shoots almost every scene either indoors or in the dark.