I Don't Know Who You Are


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

I Don't Know Who You Are
"It’s Clennon’s first ever film role, but you wouldn’t think it. The interiority, the subtlety of his performance is what really sells it."

One of the most difficult things about recovering from sexual violence is coming to terms with the fact that somebody could look right at you and fail to recognise you as a fellow human being, or fail to care. MH Murray’s blistering drama, which screened as part of the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival, follows a man who finds himself in that situation only to have the system to which he turns for help treat him with the same disregard.

He is Benjamin (Mark Clennon), and we meet him the day before it happens, relaxed and happy-go-lucky, waking up in his room next to his Himalayan salt lamp, fussing an exceedingly soft black cat, frying some eggs, having a smoke and calling his mum. He’s just sent her some money. He works as a musician, enthusiastically teaching useless students who clearly adore him. Later he catches up with his friend Ariel (Nat Manuel), talks about how things are going, how he’s getting over Oscar (Kevin A Courtney), how excited he is about his new relationship with Malcolm (Anthony Diaz), whom he’s so serious about that they still haven’t had sex despite being together for three weeks.

It’s an intimate, immersive opening, shot close up in small spaces, making it difficult not to get attached to Benjamin even if one is fearful of that, knowing what is going to happen to him. Even in the early stages, however, Murray gives us little hints of threat. When he meets Malcolm in the evening the camera watches them from just behind the edge of a doorframe so that it feels voyeuristic, an intrusion into this private space. Later, at a party where he’s feeling frustrated and on edge, it presses up through the crowd, just a little too close. Getting out onto the street, in the cool of the night, feels like a relief. With the world topsy-turvy like this, it’s easy to misjudge a moment, to recognise danger and yet not to expect it.

Murray is careful with the incident itself, showing us just enough to get across the reality of it, the shock of it, and nothing more. He trusts Clennon to show us what the assault has done. When we catch up with ben the next morning, he’s obsessively cleaning, trying to distract himself. Ariel, visiting, sees straight away that something is wrong. She doesn’t push for details but she doesn’t let him hide away either. There are practical things to be done.

HIV no longer needs to be a death sentence. In most cases, in wealthy countries like Canada, it’s now a chronic illness, and not a particularly taxing one. The fear and stigma associated with, however, remain intense, and of course it’s always better to avoid getting ill if one can. With Ariel’s help, Benjamin is quickly able to access an initial dose of preventative medicine, but to be safe, he needs to take it for another three months – and when he arrives at the pharmacy, he’s told that this isn’t covered by his insurance. The cost – all required upfront – is CA$919.19.

What does one do in a situation like this? His credit card is already maxed out. He doesn’t know anybody with that kind of petty cash. One can’t help but think that the system is set up to profit from his misfortune – because if he can’t pay now, he could be paying for the rest of his life. Although he never says so directly, it’s clear that, as he sees it, this is about being able to stay alive at all. All the distress associated with the attack itself bleeds over into his terror as he goes to increasingly desperate lengths to raise the money or persuade the stony-faced pharmacist to acknowledge, if only for an instant, that his life is worth saving.

It’s Clennon’s first ever film role, but you wouldn’t think it. The interiority, the subtlety of his performance is what really sells it. Even as Benjamin throws himself into taking action, we see his sudden awareness of all his layers of vulnerability – being gay, being a person of colour, being an ordinary person with limited financial means. We see the emotional bruises caused by the assault, and the changes that occur as he moves far out of his comfort zone. Quite how far is open to question. There are moments when it’s not clear if what’s happening is real or fantasy, with a sense of dislocation which suggests that, morally, it’s much the same either way.

It’s a tough watch, of course, but Murray is less interested in cynicism than in survivorship. Benjamin is surrounded by loving friends all the way. Even when he seems to be driving people away from him, hope remains, forming in little scraps and gradually coming together into something more solid at the end, when the film shifts gears once again. It’s a powerful piece of work, a film with a message which also has characters whose stories are absorbing in their own right.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2024
Share this with others on...
A gay musician spends his weekend trying to find the money for HIV-preventive treatment after being sexually assaulted by a stranger.

Director: MH Murray

Writer: Writers Mark Clennon, Victoria Long, MH Murray

Starring: Mark Clennon, Anthony Diaz, Nat Patricia Manuel, Deragh Campbell, Victoria Long

Year: 2023

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Canada

Search database:

Related Articles:

Insult and injury