The opening hustle bustle, the mellow sounds, of clustered little voices, we soon figure out is a school. And drops of slight sound thuds, not too dissimilar to those faint beats in those one-on-one scenes in Ex Machina when Ava speaks to Caleb. The empty interiors of the school, little movement from the camera, are also comparable to the Alicia Vikander lay-out. This is no sci-fi thriller, though. Nor is our protagonist a man-made artificial intelligence being.
The ponderous face of a teenage girl – bright, beautiful – but somehow sullen. When asked by someone off-shot what kind of girl she is, Ninnoc has a tiny little bit of make up on. Which is noticeable already. Nobody knows who she is underneath, she claims, beyond the smile, the clowning around. That she shows her happy side as much as she can. Ava was a girl, seemingly alone, wanting to reach out into the world. Her and Ninnoc are not all that different.
When Ninnoc enters the frame in the gymnasium, again empty, she is soon swinging on extended rings. Then a shot of her looking on, sitting on a bench, bored. The sounds of Ninnoc’s feet hitting the mat at each landing is still present. Is she watching herself? Or somewhere in her mind as she swings through the air, the hope that some is watching her. Not necessarily herself, but to be seen – kind of replicated later when Ninnoc is sitting in a classroom full of girls, all her. A mind’s eye of self-conscious theater, and Ninnoc plays all the parts.
The term ‘bullying’ doesn’t surface until the final part of the 19 minute film. And it may come as a surprise, a sad one, as so far it is clear that this girl is isolated, alone, an outcast. Or, at least, that is how she perceives it. Perception or self-identification, mental pain is still pain. The idea of not belonging can make you feel much, much further away than you actually are.
There are blissful moments, and not always when directly in front of the camera, biting her nails, trying to put her thoughts into tangible dialogue. Ninnoc does cartwheels down the school corridor, oscillates her body between classroom desks, or later, dancing, almost ballet like, graceful, elegant. Her private moments of expression, and even comfort, to what extent is tough to call, are very much like the character played by Kate Jarvis in Fish Tank.
Ninnoc is a moving, important little picture. Crafted with some smart technical flourishes, a real finesse to the editing and cinematography. The sound design is remarkable, subtle and effective. When Ninnoc sings with others, we cut away to her sitting alone, and the voices can still be heard drifting off in the background. Again, Ninnoc is outside of the action, whether it be a different time, or a memory.
Ninnoc is even silhouetted in the dark at one point, as she walks away down a hall. The white sweater with stars on it can’t be a coincidence, I suspect the director either chose it, or had her eyes light up when Ninnoc suggested it. Perhaps she blends into the background, and the stars shine darkly to keep her with us. Do they show her brighter side, her spark, her intelligence? Maybe it is just her favorite top.
When we cut back to Ninnoc’s face late on, her eyes are red from crying, two lonely tears slide down her cheeks. Her voice can be heard singing softly, her fist wrapped in her sleeve, to her mouth, no longer looking towards us. Its an intrusive moment, and your urge is to leave her alone, but we wait while our sympathy for her grows.
Ninnoc is all too aware that she’s not the only one who has these inner demons, and she is talking about other people her age. Children with issues, whether this or that, physical or mental, is kind of heartbreaking. By the end, when she glides in dance, you’ve almost formed Ninnoc as a kind of chiming doll, to be handled with care, and, like this short film, to be treasured.