Wednesday 25 November 2020

Chasing strange: "Nimic"

There may now be no containing it. The petri-dish oddness cultivated in the course of the so-called Greek Weird Wave was initially isolated to individual households (Dogtooth), communities (Attenberg, Alps) and in one case a ship of fools (Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier, by far the most enlightening of these experiments). It spread internationally, however, and very quickly. Yorgos Lanthimos travelled West for 2015's The Lobster and 2017's The Killing of a Sacred Deer, before exposing more people yet with 2018's The Favourite, a cockeyed costume drama that found surprising favour with critics and audiences despite going completely cuckoo in its final reel, presumably at Lanthimos's behest. (Writer Tony McNamara was better served by the recent TV hit The Great, which succeeded in being properly, laugh-out-loud funny from first frame to last, rather than determinedly eccentric.) With his new short Nimic - finding a home on MUBI this week after doing the rounds of this year's truncated festival circuit - Lanthimos spreads his particular brand of weirdness New York-wards, only adding to the area's recent woes. Cellist Matt Dillon - a faintly weird combination of words to begin with - asks glassy commuter Daphne Patakia the time on the subway; this nothingy yet fateful interaction leads to a radical restructuring of his quote-unquote normal household, and perhaps American society entire.

The games with language so central to Dogtooth and The Lobster recur here: the title's a clue of sorts, resembling another word (and the title of another movie in this vein), but not quite. As Patakia's not-quite doppelgänger follows Dillon's rattled Everyman home, the short essentially dramatises those childish strops wherein one of your kids repeats every word and gesture another person does or says. It's a reasonably amusing set-up - adults acting like children - to which Lanthimos brings now-familiar elements: the fish-eye lensing (ooh, look at the world! Isn't it weird now?), the abiding love for looney-toon performances. (You won't see a loonier performance than Patakia's all week: she's apparently been coached to act with bunny-boiler eyes alone.) Again, it adds up to no more than weirdness for weirdness's sake, and too silly to be properly unnerving (fans will doubtless call it playful), but the eccentricity proves less trying in short form than it has been over feature length. Another twelve minutes into this career, and I'm still not sure what the point of Yorgos Lanthimos is: perhaps the point is that there is no point, which is very modern, and may be the weirdest aspect of all.

Nimic will be available to stream via MUBI from Friday.

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