BFI #LFF 2019: TELL ME WHO I AM Film Review

Inspired by the autobiography of the same name, TELL ME WHO I AM is a powerfully cinematic exploration of trauma, identity and redemption

3.5 out of 5 stars

Following the release of his Oscar-nominated documentary short BLACK SHEEP, director Ed Perkins returns to the big screen with his latest feature, TELL ME WHO I AM, a potent and moving examination of memory, trauma and personal responsibility.

Best described as part documentary, part theatrical play and part thriller, TELL ME WHO I AM tells the story of identical twins Alex and Marcus and their shared connection – one forged by birth and strengthened by tragedy. After a motorcycle accident in 1982, 18-year-old Alex awoke from a coma to find his entire life’s memories erased. He remembered nothing and recognised nobody – except his identical twin, Marcus.

With no memories at all, Alex relied entirely on his brother to understand who he was. From tying his shoelaces to understanding their relationship with their parents, Marcus was responsible for teaching Alex the details of daily life. But it also left the twin brother with an ethical dilemma – should he tell Alex about what really happened in their childhood or should he shield him from the horrors of the past?

Inspired by the autobiography of the same name, TELL ME WHO I AM is a powerfully cinematic exploration of trauma, identity and redemption. Split into three acts, this mostly talking-heads documentary sees identical twins Alex and Marcus Lewis interviewed separately about the aftermath of Alex’s motorcycle accident, before coming together in the final act to confront the truth together.

It soon becomes clear that there is something much darker here than just a story about a man who has lost his memory. Alex becomes increasingly suspicious that his brother has not told him the full story of their childhood. When confronted, Marcus confirms this but refuses to give details of the terrible treatment to which the twins were subjected – one which saw them repeatedly sexually abused, both by their mother and the various men to whom she “passed” her sons.

This is a deeply powerful and distributing story with Perkins opting to deploy theatrics to expand on this personal story. Hazy dramatised sequences re-enact key parts of the story, alongside photographs of the twins and their family. Shame then that many of these sequences are repeated, lessening their impact and giving an impression that they’ve just been included to fill time.

The final act also feels somewhat awkward. The confrontation between the two brothers – in which Marcus finally reveals the truth to Alex – really should have been dealt with privately and the decision to reveal this in front of the cameras makes the whole situation feel somewhat staged.

That said, the fact that the twins are able to tell their story is testament to their resilience and you can’t deny that TELL ME WHO I AM is a powerful cinematic experience. This isn’t an easy watch but neither is it supposed to be.

TELL ME WHO I AM screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 8 October 2019.