Nimic (Review)

Legendarily odd filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster and Dogtooth) delivers a characteristically bizarre short. Feeling like a direct descendant of Possession, this atonal and abstract tale of doppelgängers and replacement is a twisted delight.

Matt Dillon (one of the very few good things about The House that Jack Built) stars as a passive male figure going through the motions. He awakes apathetically, boils an egg and stands awkwardly far away from his family as they eat breakfast – the distance further enhanced by the use of a long shot that places him firmly in the background, foregrounding empty domestic space. This montage of banal domesticity is scored to stirring strings, which turns out to be diegetic, as we see him play – still showing no emotion – a cello on a stage. This profession seemingly overhangs his existence, as implied by the intrusive score, yet still seems of no interest – a smart critique of the monotony of the traditional masculine experience (and of rote capitalistic rhythms). But then, he makes a key mistake: he talks to somebody on the tube. From this point onwards things get brilliantly peculiar and more and more Lanthimos.

Daphne Patakia enters the film and it twists with her. She is the woman he talks to on the train, and becomes the catalyst for the strange. Well, things were already strange (Lanthimos can’t not make atypical cinema), but the visual language starts to further warp. There are a lot of Dutch angles and there is frequent use of a fisheye lens – even the soundscape starts to distort and disharmonise. The cello returns, but we see it being played through the aforementioned fisheye lens, with the playing now scratchily atonal and skewed – but played with clear passion and energy, and greeted with applause. Yes, everything has twisted and changed – due to a pivotal shift in the plot I will not spoil – but everything is so gleefully twisted. Masculine malaise has been replaced with vibrancy and energy (and femininity), the traditional thrown out for the overtly modern – and progressive.

Evidently, this is a critique of traditionalism and a warning against male passivity – an affect that is so encouraged by society. But it also serves as a celebration of the weird and the uncanny. It is a filmic statement about film which shows you the joy of the strange, where an uncanny eeriness develops into full blown, but grounded, surrealism. However, this shift – though still creepy and sinister – comes with such vibrancy and filmic glee. In the end, it feels somewhat like a celebration of cinematic strangeness from somebody whose acclaim has vindicated that sensibility. The overall result here being a fascinating and evocative film open to interpretation but also one that provides a stylish surface. The direction is sharp, the acting eye-catching and the aesthetic is incredibly slick. It is exactly what you want from an abstract short film, which uses the limitations and possibilities of the medium so well, poking at interesting and evocative ideas with style while leaving an overarching, and very pleasing, ambiguity.

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