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Let’s Dance: Review of Jean Claude Billmaier’s Nulla

According to historical records, in 1518 there was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace, in the Holy Roman Empire. Where approximately 400 people took to dancing for days without rest and, over the period of about one month, some of those affected collapsed, or even died of heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion. The subject of Jean Claude Bilmaier’s Nulla, may possibly be suffering from the same mania that struck the people of Strasbourg, but we don’t know if this is the case. And like the dancing plague of 1518, there isn’t an explanation as to why this man is being inflicted by the sudden compulsion to dance.

Director Billmaier’s three-minute and fifty-second short, Nulla focuses on a man in a hotel room, who suddenly find his body jerking and moving in an uncontrollable manner. This leads to him ‘dancing’, and being unable to stop his body from behaving in this manner. As the music builds, the ‘dancer’ loses more and more control over his body, with the frame breaking up into unique triangular shards, showing his split from reality.

Featuring choreography by Loni Landon and dancer Evan Copeland, Nulla is a carefully constructed study of movement and sudden bursts of energy. And the film is set to an original score by collaborator, R&B singer and producer Toulouse, which sets your heart racing as it builds in tempo and the score explodes in this flurry of sound.

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There is only one location, and one character, a unnamed man (Evan Copeland) who is dressed in a suit. We don’t know who he is or what he is doing in this hotel room, but it hardly matters, this film is all about being in the ‘now’ and being in the moment. We begin with our protagonist walking towards the bed in the room, suddenly he stops unexpectedly and twitches, his shoulders and arms are yank upwards as if an invisible force is pulling strings attached to his body. The man takes off his jacket, and walks towards a mirror, brushing the incident off as a one-off but then he stops again and his right shoulder twitches, moving upwards uncontrollably. Once that twitch has gone, his leg begins to seize up, and Billmaier uses static to show us that something is taking over the man’s body, which is great use of visual and special effects to convey this message to the viewer.

This third incident passes again, but the man can’t ignore it. The acting from Copeland is brilliant, as his face is full of bewilderment, confusion and fear, as he sinks into the armchair, trying to figure out what is happening to his body. The use of hand-held camera, with its fluid movement and jerkiness helps to heighten the effect of what is happening to our character on-screen.

The director of photography Sam Cutler-Kreutz’s decision to use close-ups is very effective in capturing the fear, and disorientation that the character is experiencing. With the close-up of Copeland’s twitching hand being very effective, as it shows us the character’s struggle to contain his urge to dance. As the situation unfolds, and the condition takes over the man’s body, we are powerless to help and we must submit to being passive, sitting back and watching the remarkable event unfold.

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This is a very unique and compelling short film, being very experimental and artistic, capturing the beauty and horror of one being unable to control their own body. As the director discussed in an interview with Fjord review, ”The idea behind Nulla came from thinking about energy being released in an elegant fashion, resulting in an almost energy-release dance... We didn’t want to make it eerie or dark; we wanted to focus on the liberating aspect of being extremely tense and releasing pent-up energy and tension.” We can see that this is clearly a liberating experience for the character on-screen, and the film has an important of message, of letting go of our restraints, and embracing the sudden compulsions that want to take over our body.

This is an extraordinary blend of film, music and dance, all coming together to create a masterful piece of entertainment, and art. We can clearly see the passion from all those involved, and this is something that is becoming increasingly rare nowadays, it’s refreshing to see the obvious love, attention to detail and care that has been taken to bring this vision to life. Nulla is an elegant and surreal representation of releasing the stress and energy that builds up in all of us on a daily basis, all those involved in the project should be very proud of the end result, because it is truly marvelous.

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