Isaac Thorne reviews NIMMER & BIRTHDAY
There’s a thin line between separation anxiety and escape fantasy. To many people, getting stranded alone on a cliff by the sea sounds like a perfect permanent vacation from the harried hassle of modern life. To those same people, permanent separation from life experiences and loved ones by being placed in or having to work in a cold nursing home full of strangers would be pure hell. What makes the difference is not whether you are separated and alone or separated with others, but whether you have a choice in the matter.
Two new short films, Lieven Vanhove’s Nimmer and Alberto Viavattene’s Birthday explore the horror of separation from entirely different points of view. In Nimmer, lovers are separated by a collapsing seaside cliff: the man (Geert Vandyck) resides in a house on one side of the breach while the woman (Sarah Elisa) is trapped on the cylindrical remnants of the side of the side of the cliff on which a lighthouse stands. The 15-minute mostly black-and-white story explores both the consequences of their separation and their attempt to reunite.
Birthday, on the other hand, spends its 15-minute running length following an abusive nursing home nurse (Roxane Duran) who is desperate to escape her miserable job. She not only hates her job and the people she serves, but she is also using her patients as a means to climb out of impoverishment. She does this by stealing and selling the elderly residents’ belongings and prescription drugs. Like Nimmer, the primary theme of Birthday seems to be separation, although in Birthday’s case it is a desire to separate that drives the plot rather than escaping separation. The nurse desires separation from her miserable job, and the patients desire separation from their age, their nurse, and the home itself.
Of the two films, Birthday is more traditionally horror themed. It is easy to follow, well photographed, and in a couple of instances deliberately annoying. The makeup, effects, sound and score are all superb. My only issue with this production is the security guard character, who appears to be responsible for identifying patients that have recently scored valuables as a result of having birthdays (hence the title of the short). In terms of advancing the plot, this character seemed unnecessary. In addition, his dialogue with the nurse seemed intended only to generate sympathy for her. Overall, it’s worth a watch. A feature film by this director would certainly be visually satisfying.
Nimmer, on the other hand, comes off as more art film than horror. The movie contains no dialogue, but does not suffer as a result. Throughout the production we know what the characters are feeling and can guess what they’re thinking. Nimmer is well-acted, well-directed, and well-scored. It is a visual feast. The setting and many of the elements the characters interact with appear to be computer animated. That’s not a negative in this instance. The computer work integrates well with the fantasy world story and the predicament of the characters. However, if you are not a fan of artsy stylization mixed with fantasy and mythology, you might be more entertained by something that does not attempt to be as symbolic.