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I Don’t Know Who You Are Review: Poignant HIV Drama

A close up of Mark Clennon's face in the film I Don't Know Who You Are

M.H. Murray’s astonishing debut, I Don’t Know Who You Are, is a poignant drama that showcases the importance of resilience, resonance and emotional storytelling.

A debut feature is a chance to establish a filmmaking voice. With I Don’t Know Who You Are, M.H. Murray balances emotion, performance and style almost to perfection and delivers a poignant and powerful HIV-drama that doesn’t ever feel restricted by its limitations. There’s a slickness to the camerawork, a realism to the performances and a frenetic energy that feels like a deliberate choice rather than a consequence. It’s a debut that has something to say and knows it can make you listen.

Benjamin (Mark Clennon), a Toronto based musician, is sexually assaulted on his walk home from a party. In order to prevent a possible HIV infection, he must begin a course of PEP – post-exposure prophylaxis – medication within 72 hours, but it isn’t covered by his insurance. It costs almost $1000, and Benjamin, with his maxed out credit card and empty fridge, has no way of paying for it. The next two days are an exercise in increasingly desperate conversations, as he tries to raise as much cash as possible.

As a debut feature, I Don’t Know Who You Are is incredibly self-assured. There’s a confidence, even in its rawness, evident from the very beginning. The handheld camera and micro-budget don’t feel like constraints, but rather tools which amplify the growing, cloying claustrophobia Benjamin feels as he runs out of time. The film almost mimics Benjamin’s jitteriness, lingering on small details – a nurse’s hands, Benjamin’s profile, his illuminated phone screen – whilst packing every frame full of emotion.

Because the film itself is incredibly empathetic. Murray encourages tension, willing the audience to feel uncomfortable and helpless as Benjamin is assaulted, and succeeding without ever being graphic. Shocking and frustrating and terrifying, yes, but it isn’t gratuitous because it doesn’t need to be. Murray understands the complexities of trauma, especially sexual trauma, and gives Benjamin the space to cycle through his guilt, his shame and his anxiety without judgement. His roiling emotions are so palpable – emphasised by Murray’s script, Clennon’s performance and Dmitry Lopatin’s cinematography – that one cannot help but be emotionally invested right from the off.

Mark Clennon sits on a bed in the film I Don't Know Who You Are
Mark Clennon in I Don’t Know Who You Are (Black Elephant Productions / Glasgow Film Festival)

Clennon is fantastic in what is also his debut film role. He has such magnetic screen presence, emoting with his whole body, particularly during a musical performance in the final act, and he brings such a raw vulnerability to Benjamin’s struggle. The burgeoning romance with Anthony Diaz’s Malcolm is a really tender bookend to a film full of trauma and anxiousness, even if it does become a little too saccharine at times, and the pair have great chemistry.

In fact, it’s a film full of authentically awkward – in a good way – performances, and everything feels drenched in realism in a way that makes its quieter, poignant moments really work. To watch Benjamin being denied what could be literally life-saving medication because of insurance technicalities is absolutely heartbreaking, and it feels like Murray knows the power of that topicality.  

I Don’t Know Who You Are is a poignant and powerful debut from a filmmaker who understands the importance of a story’s emotional weight. It’s an affecting look at the realities of medical injustices, the barriers queer people face, and the power of a support network. It’s an astonishingly confident, authentic and emotional introduction to Murray – and Clennon’s – big screen career, and a sure sign of great things to come.

I Don’t Know Who You Are will be screened at the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival on February 29-March 1, 2023. Read our interview with director M.H. Murray and star Mark Clennon on I Don’t Know Who You Are!

I Don’t Know Who You Are Interview: M.H. Murray & Mark Clennon – Loud And Clear Reviews
At the London premiere of I Don’t Know Who You Are at BFI Flare, we interview writer-director M.H. Murray and star Mark Clennon.
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