Nimic movie review: Yorgos Lanthimos' discomfiting short is a heady cocktail of music, mayhem, and morbidity
Nimic's central theme of identity may lead to severe existential crisis, but perhaps that's the crowning jewel of the twisted pleasures of a Yorgos Lanthimos production.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ cinematic sensibilities have been far from vague. The Greek filmmaker’s works in the recent past have only consolidated his unsettling, slightly off-kilter, and bizarre brand of filmmaking.
Lanthimos wooed even his detractors with the 2017 follow-up — The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and arguably his best work, 2018’s Oscar-winning feature — The Favourite.
Nimic, his 12-minute short (a relatively low-key comeback) induces a similar discomfort and sense of nihilism with Lanthimos’ now-famous wide, low-angles, and fish-eye lens shots. Matt Dillon and Daphne Patakia inherit a mind-bending world of music, mayhem, and morbidity with the central theme of identities stitching the narrative together.
A cellist by profession, Dillon’s character suffers a complete breakdown at the hands of a weird stranger after she upends his life and forcefully takes his place. His seemingly innocuous question — “Do you have the time?” — to a fellow passenger on a New York tube, sets the ball rolling, and he pays a dear price for it.
A herky-jerky, teeth-on-the-edge background score intensifies the doom that befalls Dillon’s character. The intruder (if we can call her that) mimics the man’s every move, almost at a constant one-upmanship to be the 'new' man of the house.
As the man’s desperation to prove his authenticity increases, he turns to his family, “Children please, tell your mother who their real father is.” The stranger repeats his statement verbatim. The children reply saying, “How should we know? We’re just kids.” To any layman, this would be obvious, and would not require validation. But in Lanthimos’ universe, these statements act as a deliberate provocation in favour of strangeness and paranoia.
The short deliberately strums on repetitive structures – the passionate hand movements on the cello strings, the boiling egg, the subway ride, the fixed breakfast routine at the table – these all come together as poetic motifs in a smooth yet intriguing rhythm. These cyclical themes then form a microcosm to the interchangeable identities of Dillon and Patakia’s character.
The cast’s stoicism heightens the sense of foreboding (another signature trope in Lanthimos’ cinematic world) and the camera works in favour of this horror-creation. Playing subtly with the concepts of artificiality and truth, Nimic stands as a meta-narrative that references itself with sadistic glee, in a vicious cycle that could go on forever.
The title of the film may well have been an extension to this dichotomy, since the term "Nimic" has its roots in the Romanian word, meaning “nothing” as well as “anything.”
Lanthimos provides Nimic with ample moments of wry humour, but presents it with layers of dark cynicism.
The short asks important questions that could definitely lead to severe existential crisis, but isn’t that the crowning jewel among the twisted pleasures of a Yorgos Lanthimos film?
Nimic is streaming on MUBI.
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