▶︎ Nimic is on Mubi.

There’s a reductive tendency in film discourse to assume a natural trajectory from short-form to feature-length productions, with the former solely acting as a stepping stone for aspiring directors looking for their big break. This line of thinking not only does a disservice to the many filmmakers who actively prefer to work in a shorter format, but also to the works themselves. Some stories are simply better told via the poetic punch of a short film. Nimic is one of them. 

Here Yorgos Lanthimos is back up to his old tricks, cooking up a bitesize morsel of dis-ease that condenses the Greek director’s trademark black-comic disturbia into a neat 12-minute package. The protagonist (Matt Dillon, credited as Father) is a cellist, rehearsing in a sophisticated, modern auditorium. On his way home, he asks a woman (Daphne Patakia) “Do you have the time?”; she responds with the same question. The mimicry escalates from here. 

Staples of Lanthimos’s style – like the fish-eye lens and CCTV-style pans – return and are used with astute sparseness. They add a paranoid nervousness to the family’s luxurious townhouse and its surrounding ivy-adorned neighbourhood, a justified sense of impending threat. 

After premiering at Locarno Film Festival back in 2019, the short film has finished its lengthy flight around the festival circuit and settled on streaming platform Mubi, a service that often acts as home for short works by arthouse directors – Nimic is now nestled alongside Jonathan Glazer’s lockdown-shot Strasbourg 1518 and Luca Guadagnino’s Valentino fashion showcase The Staggering Girl, among others. 

Despite car manufacturer Mini getting a closing ‘in partnership with’ credit, this isn’t a spon-con advertorial like The Staggering Girl, or Wes Anderson’s films for H&M and Prada, or Martin Scorsese’s absurd $70 million-budgeted promo for a Macau casino-resort. There’s a reassuring absence of automobile-related content in Nimic to assuage fears that we are being sold a product by subterfuge. Instead, the subway is transportation of choice for the protagonist, and it is here where his fateful meeting with his mimic occurs. 

Daphne Patakia is electric in her copycat role, a performance of slowly intensifying manic glee that crescendos with a Joker grin and the ravenous demolition of a hard-boiled egg, simultaneously comic and threatening. Matt Dillon is very much the straight-man here, acting with passive bemusement that elevates the weirdness of Patakia and the supporting cast.

Although Nimic doesn’t have the space to cultivate Dogtooth’s nauseous discomfort, or the delirious, wicked mania of The Favourite to the same overwhelming extent, it’s a short, sharp shock of what makes Lanthimos’s films so compelling, and deserves to sit alongside his longer films as an equal and valued addition to the oeuvre.

Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more

News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.