Lindsey Cordero and Armando Croda, the co-directors of the narrative-verite hybrid I’m Leaving Now, stumbled upon their subject, Felipe Hernández, in 2013. An undocumented Mexican immigrant who has lived in Brooklyn for 15 years, Felipe’s effusive personality is complemented by his eye-catching wardrobe, the focal point of which is a black, gold-flecked sombrero that Croda, who acts as the film’s cinematographer, often frames in such a way that it takes up the majority of the screen. It’s an oversize sight gag, yes, but a strangely humanizing one.
The exact duration of Felipe’s stay in the U.S. fluctuates throughout the movie, which plays fast and loose with both time and the seasons. Summer segues haphazardly into winter, and vice-versa — never mind the shifting lengths, sometimes between back-to-back scenes, of Felipe’s hair. This is all seemingly intentional, and it gives a sense of the malleability and turbulence inherent to this particular subject’s life. A decade and a half feels like it has passed in the blink of an eye, but the hazy monotony of Felipe’s day-to-day existence remains, and is perhaps keeping him stagnant.
Occasionally moving, but minor.
Felipe’s routine is hard-knock, but he approaches it with determination and good humor. He primarily collects discarded recyclables in plastic bags filled to bursting, exchanging them for cash at the supermarket, though he also mops up the floors at a local Hasidic synagogue. The money he makes then goes, via wire transfer, to his family in Mexico. When he left his birth country, one of Felipe’s sons was only a few months old. Now he’s nearly a high school senior. The goal is for Felipe to eventually go back home and reassume his position as the head of the family, though he’s been intending this for so long that it’s now a running joke in his adopted community. His constant refrain, “I’m leaving now,” has become analogous to “We’re waiting for Godot.”
Cordero and Croda fiddle with the standard documentary template. There are no to-camera interviews or identifying titles to speak of. And the images often have a curious quality of feeling simultaneously staged and happened upon. Midway through, there’s a sex scene in which Felipe awkwardly paws at an unseen female companion — a moment just this side of exploitative, since it’s so clearly contrived. Felipe’s frequent phone calls home, during which he discovers that his family has squandered most of the funds he’s sent them, as well as his doting relationship with a woman, Dionicia, who seems tragically destined to love and to lose this particular man, are more powerful precisely because you can’t pin down the degree to which the situations are scripted or actually lived.
The blurring of the lines between fiction and fact still mostly feels like a crutch or an affectation. It’s as if Cordero and Croda are trying to goose the drama rather than unearth it, never entirely trusting that Felipe’s life is interesting enough as is.
Production companies: MUmedia, Group Effort Films
Directors: Lindsey Cordero, Armando Croda
Writer: Josh Alexander
Producers: Josh Alexander, Armando Croda, Lindsey Cordero
Co-producer: J. Xavier Velasco
Editor: Armando Croda
Cinematographer: Armando Croda
Music: Jacobo Lieberman, Leo Heiblum
Sound design: Omar Juarez