MUBI UK film review: Nimic
Laurence Boyce | On 06, Dec 2020
For all its intrigue and examination of complex power relationships, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite was a relatively straight affair, especially when compared with his more allegorical works such as The Lobster or The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Short film Nimic, the first film from Lanthimos since his Oscar-winning success with The Favourite, sees the Greek director return to the obtuse and surreal motifs that have become something of his hallmark.
Matt Dillon plays a professional cellist who, after a chance encounter on the subway with a mysterious woman, finds his life being taken over. Despite the fact that this strange entity doesn’t look like him (and is clearly unable to play the cello to boot), our protagonist sees his life slowly slip away as he is replaced. With the benign acquiescence of his family and colleagues, he soon sees his existence occupied by someone else.
Lanthimos, with a script from longtime collaborator Efthymis Filippou, eschews rational explanation for an air of both the absurd and existential dread. The central conceit taps into fears about identity theft and the ease of which our private lives are laid bare to public scrutiny but also to the willingness of society to let all number of things happen through sheer indolence and ennui.
While the idea that a female non-musician can replace Matt Dillon’s character is laced with absurd irony, it’s others – and indeed our main protagonist – whose passiveness becomes the way for our mimic to take over. There’s little resistance offered by Dillon’s character to his doppelgänger/not doppelgänger’s takeover. He slumps around with a resigned look as his family willingly accept the new face. A cello recital sees the audience enthusiastically applaud our mimic’s amateurish stab at performing. It’s this complete refusal to do or react to anything in the face of something that would seem untenable that is the real chilling notion at the heart of the film.
With dialogue sparse, the film relies on a staccato music score and off-kilter cinematography to continually give a sense of unease. There’s a sterile and passionless feel to the world created, emphasising the situation – a cadre of the wealthy middle class allowing anything to happen so that they can’t be seen to be rocking the boat. Dillon adds to this mood, with his performance being one of exasperation and powerlessness, with a deliberate feeling of low energy. His turn is mirrored ironically by Daphné Patakia as the mimic, who is almost otherworldly in her role. There’s less a sense of malevolence about her character and more an air of childish mischievousness. Indeed, her slight ineptitude at “mimicking” Dillon is part of the absurdity – the fact that someone who seems so hopeless at it is still accepted. Even the film’s title would seem to emphasise this imperfection.
Over a scant 12 minutes Nimic is an extremely timely piece of work, that is often unsettling in its reflection of a society that is in such a torpor that it is unable – or unwilling – to fight against even the most absurd of circumstances.
Nimic is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.