Canadian singer Mark Clennon is a revelation in M.H. Murray’s feature film debut about a musician who survives sexual assault in need of post-exposure prophylaxis medication…
Toronto-based musician Benjamin (Mark Clennon) is relaxed, confident, and open to a new relationship with the guy he’s dating named Malcolm (Anthony Diaz). Witty, handsome, and kind, Benjamin starts his Friday by chatting with his friend Ariel (Nat Manuel) about his feelings for Malcolm, hoping to end the night cooking pasta and finally having sex with his new man. Contrary to his plans, the evening comes to a head when Benjamin is sexually assaulted on the streets of Toronto after a late night of partying.
Fearing the worst after the traumatic experience, Benjamin is desperate to obtain HIV-preventive PEP medication in case his rapist carries the virus. Short on cash as the clock ticks down on the 72 hours for the medication to yield the highest efficacy, Benjamin spends his weekend raising the money he needs before his window closes, all while avoiding Malcolm in the process.
Reprising his role from Murray’s 2020 short film Ghosted, Mark Clennon plays Benjamin in I Don’t Know Who You Are with a carefree yet noncommittal attitude. Canadian filmmaker M.H. Murray displays an authentic viewpoint in his debut feature film, with its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. The film is a daunting and darkly realistic journey of struggle for many folks embarrassed about a traumatic experience as they try to pick up the pieces of a broken life.
I Don’t Know Who You Are is specifically queer in its delivery of Benjamin’s harsh weekend, as the stigma of being drunk and placing oneself in a harmful situation results in guilt, discomfort, and overall shame. The complicated issue of PEP medication not being covered by government plans is also crucial to Benjamin’s battle because, without proper coverage, the life-saving pills are $900 and out of his price range. Discriminatory as it is to the gay community, the 72-hour HIV exposure window makes for a case of walls closing in on our fateful hero as the movie progresses.
What starts as a casual weekend for Benjamin dissolves into a chaotic deadline of epic proportions. Murray understands how to make Benjamin’s predicament seem even more dire with close-up shots of Clennon’s face and eyes, leaving the audience helpless along with the main character. Clennon delivers a sensational performance as the multi-hyphenate co-writes and produces the film in addition to writing and performing all of its songs. It’s a commanding take on one man’s fight against the evils of this world as he unravels from what he perceives is damage to his body, mind, and spirit.
It’s easy to praise Clennon as the Jamaican-born Canadian is front and center in this odyssey of despair. The singer and poet has already been honored at TIFF as one of the festival’s 2023 Rising Stars, and it’s easy to see why. He oozes charisma while letting the audience in on his character’s anguish. Acclaim should also follow M.H. Murray as the director has a keen eye for keeping his characters grounded and showing the harsh uncomfortableness of big city problems that affect its gay residents. Nat Manuel deserves considerable credit as Benjamin’s friend Ariel, as the actor provides much-needed strength and a support system with her performance. While the film carries a small cast and a minor budget, it explodes with inspiration and resilience with every passing scene.
I Don’t Know Who You Are is an urgent tale full of interconnected relationships and rough realities, giving way to hope in the face of adversity. The movie shines brilliantly as it projects impatience, artistry, worthwhile surprises, and the motivations behind propelling one man forward after a tragedy complicates his existence. The calm moments when Benjamin is alone with his thoughts genuinely provide insight into what Clennon can do as an actor, and it’s masterfully executed.
While some individuals may pursue vengeance against those aiming to inflict harm, Benjamin stands out as a character deserving of support due to his willingness to simply move on.
This review was filed from the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.