An unnamed man wakes up in an unnamed city. On a subway train, he asks an unnamed woman for the time. Instead of giving it to him, or ignoring him, she pauses, then asks him for the time. Then she follows him home and elbows him out of his life, family and home.
Normally, I’d say that that is the ‘gist’ of Yorgos Lanthimos’s new film, but given that it’s only just over ten minutes long, it’s more like most of it. Nimic is super-short, more like an art piece. And yet it’s completely satisfying. None of Lanthimos’s films offers simple endings, answers or whatever the hell ‘closure’ means nowadays. Obviously indebted to Dostoevsky and Kafka, Nimic takes the simplest existential idea – what if everything in my life is meaningless? – and does a little riff on it. It lacks the brutal, unhinged surrealism of Dogtooth or The Lobster (there’s no animal cruelty this time, thank God), and perhaps its greatest credulity gap is Matt Dillon playing a professional cellist. But it still poses a big question.
Nimic is sort of the anti-The Favourite: with none of that film’s lavish visual panache, it’s just the bare bones, a swift sketch. Is it about Covid? About a midlife crisis? About Western alienation? I watched it several times. I googled the name of a florist in it; it doesn’t exist. But that lack of explanation feels somehow liberating, unlike, say, the claustrophobic frustration of Michael Haneke’s Caché. When the interloper (a brilliantly deadpan Daphne Patakia) performs in a concert, she can’t play the cello at all. No one notices, or cares (which sets up a good joke about basketball). With none of his usual WTF-ness, Lanthimos provides a cool parable for a chilly age. And a reminder to never, ever, talk to strangers on the tube.
Streaming on Mubi now.