Nails in My Brain (2020) *** Cinema du Reel 2020

March 25th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Hilal Baydarov | Doc, Azerbaijan 2020, 80 min.

Azerbaijani director and writer Hilal Baydarov also acts as his own editor and DoP in this introspective self-reflection on art and particularly God. Wandering around a house, possible his birthplace, he narrates the piece in the form of seven chapters and one epilogue, exploring the story of his life and his close relationship with God.

In chapter One, titled Questions, Hilal recalls being about twelve when the first ‘nail’ entered his brain after he forgot put the gas off leaving for school, managing to avoid an explosion by opening the window on his return. But one question remains with him: Why did God let him live? In 9th grade he falls in love with Jala because she was all dressed in black due to the death of her parents. His love for her grows even more when she admits to being unmoved by her mother’s death – until she was driven to tears by the final ‘photo she was carrying. Hilal can relate to this: after his grandfather died he felt no sorrow, but when he found his old watch he admits to breaking down and comes to the conclusion that he loves Jala less than the sadness she represents.

In chapter two, “That girl from Sarajewo”, Hilal falls in love with a stranger, following her into the tram, but getting off when he realises that his staring is attracting unwelcome attention from the other passengers. He tells her about the time his Maths teacher made him stand on one foot in front of the class because he could never answer the questions. He knew all the answers but actually got off on being punished. “I was the teacher, not her – I felt like a God” he exclaims – and he believes his love of Maths comes from these experiences.

In Chapter Three “The Love of Living” (quite a contradiction) begins his intimate dialogue with God, which continues to permeate the rest of the feature. Hilal admits to being impressed by a series of suicides going on in his village. At least somebody has dared to do something outrageous, which he himself bailed out of, due to cowardice and lack of conviction. He puts this all down to his fear of Hell, and admits he would have killed himself if God had really desired his death.

Hilal also dreams about being on the way to his execution, loving every moment, particularly the last one when the crowd around him screams loud when he dies. But Hilal does not share the same thoughts of his fellow humans: he only makes a brief visit to his sick cousin in hospital. On the train back, he is unmoved by the images of previous film (Where the Persimmons Grow/2019), when he sees a father counting the rent money over and over again, desperate in case he is short. Finally in the epilogue title “I am not a prophet” he comes to the conclusion Eve was the first painter. Because Adam had invited guests to dinner and they all looked the same, whereas Eve painted them as individuals. “Don’t be the oracle of Baku”, he concludes, “for me, filming is just a way of cowardice”.

Although this sixth outing from the Azerbaijani filmmaker is often laborious and verbose, patient viewers will find it ultimately rewarding, enriched by its lyrical mournfulness and the sumptuous images of the abandoned village. Sometimes the camera rests on a window, with the rest of the frame black. Halil nails pages from books onto the wall, and then sets them of fire. Hilal evokes a spirit of abandonment, which is underlined in his ramblings about God and film. AS

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