By Angelo Muredda
A sexual assault sends a young Toronto musician into a frantic two-day scramble to pay for HIV-prevention meds in M.H. Murray’s compelling feature debut, I Don’t Know Who You Are. What starts as a gentle account of Benjamin (Mark Clennon, also the story editor) ambling through a budding romance with new love Malcolm (Anthony Diaz) becomes a tense social realist drama, bordering on a thriller, with shades of the Dardenne brothers’ Deux jours, un nuit (2014), when Benjamin learns the treatment he needs to take within the 72-hour exposure window following his assault costs nearly a thousand dollars that he doesn’t have.
Despite the uneasiness of the title, Murray and Clennon are self-assured in their respective debuts. Though the mechanics of the plot border on the contrived at times, Murray effectively ratchets up the tension in Benjamin’s encounters with a procession of health-care workers, ex-lovers, and WASPy friends in nice condos, a series of middle-class gatekeepers he needs to pass through in a timely manner to fill up his fanny pack with the $900 in cash he needs. Murray has a particular knack for capturing the institutional malaise of the clinics and pharmacies where, despite the freshness of his trauma, Benjamin has to advocate for himself in the face of indifference. Clennon is a great screen presence, magnetic in these impassioned pleas as well as in his subtler moments, like when he gingerly suggests a former bandmate might pay up for those free performances he used to put on for her, or when he trudges through nausea and anxiety to get to the end of a tutoring lesson so he can collect his $50 payment on the spot—emotional labour at its purest. We don’t really need a line where the aforementioned bandmate (Deragh Campbell) tells him he’s the scrappiest person she knows: it comes across in Clennon’s body language and eyes.
The film’s early fuzziness around the details of acquiring PEP treatment without insurance in Ontario is at odds with its tendency to over-explain in the tidy last act, which feels a bit too educational about how queer men go about negotiating awkward conversations around HIV status and sex. Those shaky bookends aside, this is a strong calling card for filmmaker and star, an empathetic character study that effectively balances its punchy genre elements with its human drama.