Seemingly disparate strange stories prove to be mysteriously interrelated in “You Are Here,” a charming, Charlie Kaufman-like metafictional puzzler from debuting Canuck writer-helmer Daniel Cockburn that touches on notions of identity and cognition in a playful, amusing way. Pic’s willful, even admirable refusal to develop complex characters or a single, easily digestible storyline within its pleasingly tricksy Chinese-box construction, as well as its low-budget look, will limit access to wider distribution, but “Here,” which sharply divided audiences at Locarno, could certainly find a place at further fests.
At first, the screenplay seems to unfold as a series of discreet short films that feel like riffs on ideas from writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino or Alain Robbe-Grillet, but could only be told using film technique. For instance, a crowd of ethnically diverse men and women of varying ages are all introduced as Alan. As he goes about his morning routine, Alan is played by some two dozen thesps in different shots.
Later on (in a segment based, per end credits, on an idea found in the writings of philosopher of language John Searle), a man (Anand Rajaram) processes writings in Chinese in a closed room. Because he doesn’t actually speak Chinese himself, he doesn’t realize he’s translating and creating coherent texts in the language. So, a narrator demands, where is the consciousness in this system — in the man, the experimenters or the room itself?
Story strand about a femme archivist (Tracy Wright, “Me and You and Everyone We Know”), who collects found objects that relate to the pic’s other stories, begins to tie things together. But in the end, she, like characters elsewhere who frenetically call an office to report their location, has no more idea why she does what she does than a single neuron understands the mind it serves.
Although not called on to do much acting beyond shuffling like rats through Cockburn’s mental labyrinths, the pic’s mostly unknown cast contribute solid perfs. Wright’s part is the meatiest by far, and she brings an affecting vulnerability to her role as the confused archivist in what was to prove to be the actor’s last performance before her death.
Cockburn, a maker of shorts before this, skillfully keeps all the pic’s plates spinning. Although Cabot McNenly’s lensing is serviceable, given the digital format used, and the rest of the tech credits scrape by, the pic seems as though it could have been vastly improved — and secured a better commercial future — with a bigger budget.