As we witness a woman endlessly dig a hole in the middle of a public park, accompanied by an acolyte that seems to be cheering her on, the unsettling atmosphere paired with the act of digging one’s own grave means we quickly come to the conclusion that something dark is happening in this short. With It’s Nothing, we welcome back Anna Maguire to S/W who has been featured as a director (Your Mother and I, Constellations) and in front of the camera (He Took his Skin Off For Me).
While materializing an inner voice into an actual human character is hardly a new premise, in It’s Nothing it allows the filmmaker to grasp the complexity and hold that mental illness and eating disorders can have on someone. From psychological abuse to physical violence, seeing it inflicted from someone who is at the same time internal and external makes Robin’s inner struggle all the more riveting. Having it come to the screen in a character that is not only beautiful but effortlessly cool and charismatic reinforces how scary and twisted this path of self-destruction actually is.
Written by Julia Lederer, Maguire explains that “the original idea came from Julia who had written a play for young audiences about anorexia, based on her own experiences”, adding that she was “immediately drawn to her writing and depth of understanding and of compassion for Robin”. They collaborated to develop it into a screenplay, infusing both of their experiences into the main character’s struggle.
The psychological focus of the film was always the core they wanted to build the story from, aiming to capture it from a fresh perspective. “I was inspired to try and show parts of why they are so hard to reckon with, and to communicate the experience of an eating disorder in a way I hadn’t seen it portrayed: from the inside out”, Lederer explains. This visceral aspect is vivid on-screen and adds a genre element to the film, while also immersing the audience in Robin’s shoes.
From the cinematography to the sound design, just like Robin, we are stuck, held captive by this dominating presence, her isolation from the rest of the world reinforced by the size of the hole that no one seems to question. Interactions with other people barely register, to her and us, before she makes her presence louder and begins to take back control.
Ultimately, it comes down to a mind vs body conflict, and the chemistry between the two actresses was paramount in order to capture all the facets of this complex relationship and power struggle. The performances of both Emily Piggford and Cara Gee are quite remarkable and, with some hindsight, terrifying. The way the pair navigates the concept means it never turns into a gimmick and through all the emotions and situations that Robin finds herself in, the interactions between the two performers is always incredibly compelling.
It’s Nothing premiered at the 2019 edition of TIFF, before hitting the festival circuit with notable stops at the Palm Springs ShortFest or Montreal’s FNC. Maguire is currently writing her first feature titled An Empty Space, already backed by BFI NETWORK and the Less is More feature film development program, run by Le Groupe Ouest.