N I M I C
R E V I E W
By Donya Jeyabalasingham
The concept behind Yorgos Lanthimos’ short film Nimic is neither new nor unpredictable, and yet the staples of Lanthimos’ directorial style (sweeping CCTV-esque shots, fish eye lenses, slow zooms etc) still make this ten-minute piece a memorable and fascinating watch. Though this short film spent some time on the film festival circuits of 2019, many are only now watching it for the first time due to its recent release on film streaming site Mubi.
I find it hard to imagine this short film being sought out by anyone other than film-festival-goers and Lanthimos fans (and the Mubi-watcher who does not fit into one of these two categories). It is, however, still a great taste of the absurdism and paranoia that runs through Lanthimos’ more notable films (The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster specifically), and still presents its viewers with some interesting takes on the rehearsal of existence in a characteristically disjunctive style that’s enjoyable for anyone that likes playful cinematography with more philosophical undertones. The deadpan performances from Matt Dillon (who plays ‘Father’) and Daphne Patakia (the ‘mimic’) are particularly engrossing when confined to a forgiving ten minute run time - though I think that if Nimic was expanded into a long-form film, the impassive delivery would, if without some other form of escalation, be quite suffocating. It’s hard to ‘spoil’ something like Nimic when the plot structure is predictably circular- but look away if you haven’t yet watched it and wish to hold onto some element of surprise. We begin the day with the Father, who wakes up next to his wife and eats breakfast with his family. He goes on to appear in an orchestra rehearsal performing the music that has been scoring the film throughout. His unassuming day is interrupted by the mimic who begins imitating his actions after a brief interaction on the train. From then on we watch the Father get replaced in his own life, only to conclude with a final scene on the same train, where someone asks the Father the very same question that he had once asked his own mimic (‘Do you have the time?’), suggesting we’re in some sort of endless cycle of imitation that started before the film and will extend beyond it.
'there’s a distinct nihilism in this film that is unrelenting in its ability to make you wonder to what extent you’ve been a mimic in your own - albeit less absurdist - landscape'
For such a short space of time the film is really packed with mini-metaphors and symbolism which become unexpectedly difficult to grapple with. I think the best way ‘in’ to a short like this is beginning with the title. To many ‘nimic’ will look like an intentional misspelling of ‘mimic’, and the film being about mimicry itself pretty much validates this idea. However, a quick google will tell you that ‘nimic’ is also a Romanian word meaning both ‘nothing’ and ‘anything’. There’s no way to prove that Lanthimos intended to use the Romanian word here- but the duality between whether ‘nimic’ is a meaningless misspelling of ‘mimic’ or whether it simply means ‘nothing’ feels like two sides of the same coin. Either way it's clear that Lanthimos is setting us up for an exploration of nothingness. I like to think of Nimic in two halves: rehearsal and performance. This division can be easily signposted by the first half featuring the Father at an orchestra rehearsal, and the second half featuring the mimic at the performance itself, but there are also more subtle effectuations of this divide. We see the Father and the mimic both rehearse sleeping next to the woman they claim to be married to, and then once this final rehearsal is over we transition into the second half of the short film wherein we see the mimic in their full performance of the ‘father’. Playing into these themes of performance and rehearsal, Lanthimos also provides a constant audience in the film- whether it be the audience at the concert, or the three children who look on as the father and the mimic each take turns practising hugging their wife.
And - with risk of sounding a bit tacky - there’s also us the audience watching the whole thing unfold. The best
thing about utilising absurdist landscapes is that once you move past the pretences of realism everything becomes (to some degree) symbolic. Yes, there’s lots of off-putting mimicry in this film and it would be easy to get stuck wading through the mires of Lanthimos’ imagery, but there’s quite an interesting point being made here about the strangeness of personality. Our characters have no names, they are merely functioning as their societal and familial roles (the credits list characters as ‘Father, ‘Mother’, ‘Children’ etc.) There’s a distinct nihilism in this film that is unrelenting in its ability to make you wonder to what extent you’ve been a mimic in your own - albeit less absurdist - landscape.
This isn’t exactly an original idea from Lanthimos, as the concept of performativity in our socially constructed roles is a well established one. While you might get sucked into going round the circular ruins of this baffling film you may also find some refuge in the final scene of the short: the uncomfortable devouring of a hard-boiled egg. I can’t particularly evidence this at all, but I immediately thought of the ‘chicken and the egg’ problem, presenting itself as an unsolvable circular question that mirrors a similar issue in the film of where this mimicry ‘began’: was our mimic once the victim of mimicry herself? What’s more - is the Father now about to become a mimic and create more mimics in the future? I can assure you that these questions will not be answered - so you might be better off eating the egg too.
'for such a short space of time the film is really packed with mini-metaphors and symbolism which become unexpectedly difficult to grapple with'