Review: Nails in My Brain (2020)

courtesy of Cinéma du réel

Hilal Baydarov is a phenomenon of sorts in the emerging Azeri cinema. He is an extremely prolific filmmaker, working both in the fiction and the documentary genre. Over the course of two years, his filmography consists of 8 feature-length films. While his fiction work falls in the line with art house festival-friendly cinema (his latest film, In Between Dying just premiered at Venice competition), his documentaries are actually film essays for which he assumes multiple crew roles, basically doing most of the work himself.

It is taken to the extreme with his newest documentary Nails in My Brain, for which he did everything himself. It premiered earlier this year at Cinéma du réel and is currently playing at Doclisboa’s Movements section.

A young man wanders through the ruin of what could be his childhood home full of memories and questions that feel like nails in his brain. He narrates about love, lost relatives, childhood traumas, mathematical thought experiments, life, death and, for the most of the time, God and his attitude towards him. In order to make peace with the divine entity, he wishes nothingness so he could clear his mind and he achieves it with a ritual in which he burns the pages from the book previously attached to nails.

Baydarov does everything himself: he is his own star and narrator, his own DoP, editor and sound designer. In that way, he achieves the complete control in order to present his vision. In order to achieve that, some compromises have to be made: camerawork has to be static, with longer takes usually from the mid-distance so he could be occasionally present in front of the camera. However, everything feels a bit staged: the inside of the house seems like a work of a production designer rather than an actual ruin, and Baydarov’s off-screen narration sounds declamatory. The structure of the seven almost equally long chapters and the epilogue is rigid, contrary to the fluidity of the content, but it suits the purpose.

On the other hand, his thoughts and their stream seem genuine and even quite a bit of pieces of wisdom could be taken from that in the form of quotations. The most impressive component of the film is the use of the sound and music. The approach is quite simply coded: for the most of the time, the narration and the footage is accompanied by Erik Satie’s Gnossienne no. 1, while the passages without the piano music are equipped with a striking sound design consisting of the sounds of the nature, like wind-blowing and birds chirping, amplifying the sense of solitude and desolation, and the chapters separations are usually signalled by the black screen and loud church bells striking.

Nails in My Brain might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it certainly is thought-provoking and it leaves an impression.

courtesy of Doclisboa

Original title: Beynimdəki Mismarlar
Year: 2020
Runtime: 81’
Country: Azerbaijan
Language: Azeri
Directed by: Hilal Baydarov
Written by: Hilal Baydarov
Narrated by: Hilal Baydarov
With: Hilal Baydarov
Cinematography by: Hilal Baydarov
Editing by: Hilal Baydarov
Sound design by: Hilal Baydarov
Produced by: Hilal Baydarov