I Am Here
David Holmes' directorial debut is a personal, poetic film born of bereavement following the death of his brother – watch the full film now
David Holmes’ directorial debut was nearly premiered on Channel 4 last night. Why the powers that be at that once great channel chose to top and tail it like a carrot I don’t know – I can only presume that they hadn’t bothered to watch it.
Because this is a short film that luxuriates in every second of its every frame: it needs all of its time on screen. Slow, meditative and beautifully shot by award-winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the film unspools at its own pace, like an ever rolling stream, bearing all its sons away.
Holmes is no stranger to the cinema, of course. Last week he won an Ivor Novello for his score for the Yann Demange feature '71, and his hypnotic collaboration with Mark Cousins, the nominative sibling I Am Belfast, was an extraordinary portrait of the city. But this is his first film with the megaphone and baseball cap, and he acquits himself well.
At the start of the film, past the darkness, the rain on the stone wall and flitting shadows, there is the introduction of a foetal figure, off centre in the frame. We know that this is somebody's child. That seems like a ludicrous thing to say, especially out loud: everybody is somebody’s child. But as an image, it sets out its stall for the rest of the film – somebody has just been born, fresh into a foreign world. And they need to find their way to home, hearth and family.
The camera curls around him, blurring and shaking. Odd, skirling horns sound and we find that he is being observed from above by the first of several phantoms. Are these children ghosts or memories, and is there a difference?
There is another shivering shot of a canopy of trees – and again the furtive, fidgety camera. Clearly our protagonist is looking for something, but he is being looked at as well, and by the world's most Irish people, red-haired women in shawls walking through the mist. It’s like a spooky Caffrey's advert. This is a cinematically mythological Ireland, of course; a land of the demographically young.
The camera is low and a tracking shot through a blackened woodpile features three points of movement: the man, the camera, the black lattice of the foreground. The eye of the camera here is restless, searching, even as the man is. Even as he is hunted. It is as if the earth itself is chasing him down, attempting to claim him. It’s just one of the many odd, funereal notes that chime through the film.
There are huge blank spaces, as if something is missing or occluded. There is a consistent use of negative space and off-centre, elliptical compositions. This is a film about someone who is missing and being missed. Natural light colours the Irish landscape beautifully. When the sun is out in this country, it really does look gorgeous.
The sheep's wool snow then moves us into the realm of magic realism, the found footage echoing the colour palette of the film beautifully. Mystery piles upon mystery. Is he lost? Is he amnesiac? Is he dead? Is this heaven? Who are the watchers and what do they represent?
Co-director of the Holmes scored Good Vibrations, here screenwriter Lisa Barros D’sa’s story unravels slowly, like sweater-wool torn on a thorn, and is parable simple. The film was made as a reaction to the death of Holmes’ elder brother Michael (Edward Hogg), and this is his journey through an idealised, heavenly Ireland and back to the arms of his waiting family (Michelle Fairley and Liam Cunningham).
The title makes sense: it isn’t the shout of a lonely figure in an alien landscape. It is the sense of realisation that he has made it home. Michael’s journey is over. He can rest.
The shot with all three figures (the mother's back, the father in the mirror, the son in the window) is a masterful use of space and a fantastic way of breaking up the screen, containing each of them, like a triptych. They are separated momentarily until the next scene brings them all together. The watchers melt back into the forest, their ancestral photos glimpsed through the windows: the psychopomps have done their duty. He has been delivered.
I Am Here is a lovely work. Clearly a very personal and poetic film, it is nevertheless peppered with arresting images: Michael’s meeting with a frozen, trembling deer in a forest glade, for example, sounds hopelessly sentimental on the page; in fact it is a transformative moment in the film, the moment in which he accepts the landscape and becomes part of it. It is the moment that he is ready to go home.
A film born of bereavement and a sense of loss could have been angry or desperate, but Holmes' debut unfolds languorously, taking its time to show the beauty of the world that Michael has entered and the simplicity of the reunion with his people. It is a film made with love and, ultimately, acceptance, the ending satisfying and inevitable. Unless you watched it on Channel 4, that is, in which case you’re still dangling. Thanks to the director, then, for posting the full film to YouTube, which you can watch above.