The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - NINA | The Movie Waffler

New to MUBI - NINA

New to MUBI - NINA
An infertile teacher falls for the young woman she wishes to become a surrogate mother for the child she can't have herself.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Olga Chajdas

Starring: Julia Kijowska, Eliza Rycembel, Andrzej Konopka, Maria Peszek, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Tatiana Pauhofová

nina movie poster

Kids, who'd have 'em? Nina, the titular character of Olga Chajdas' melodrama, that's who. She's surrounded by them all day in her job as a high school French teacher, and, a clear glutton for punishment, she wants her very own child, too. The problem is that Nina (played to an icy perfection by Julia Kijowska, who also co-wrote the evidently personal screenplay) is infertile, and, with her fella Wojtek (Andrzej Konopka), undergoes fertility treatment and scours the personal ads for potential surrogate mothers. Nothing seems to be clicking for the couple however, until they meet the sexy, carefree Magda (Eliza Rycembel), and, eyeing up her fresh-faced look and feisty attitude, Wojtek suggests the younger woman as a proxy mum.

Nina review

It's a crafty plan on the part of grubby old Wojtek, but what the couple don't realise is that homegirl is gay. The audience do however, as we've seen already her up to tricks with a random behind her girlfriend's back, and for the first third of the film we wait for the penny to drop. Perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh on the couple though, as they haven't even clued in to the more pressing reality that one of them, too, is actually in the gays: Nina herself. As the film progresses, and the couple attempt to woo Magda into providing a child for them, a mutual attraction blossoms between the two women.

Plot-wise, from the awakening of Nina's sexuality the focus shifts towards her reconcilement of her new-found desires. The drama is pleasantly absorbing, and filmed with the experimental vigour of a new, but technically proficient, director. Chajdas has history within Polish television, but this is her first feature, and her style is at once fresh - filming from unusual angles, with hazy lighting - but also authentic, with her actors putting in lived-in and completely believable performances. The problem is that Nina is one of those films where most will be able to figure out what is going to happen in the first five minutes of this two-hours plus movie. And what unfolds is a predictable but heartening coming-out-of-the-closet tale where older-woman but baby-dyke Nina is familiarised to the exciting world of homosexuality, its sex and culture, by her girlish counterpart. Flighty Magda, likewise, is surprised to find a partner whom she could devote herself monogamously to. There is no suggested fluidity within Nina, no sense that Nina's dominant sexual preference has simply wandered to pastures new: the happy implication at the heart of the film is that she has recognised her true sexual persona.

Nina review

Which is lovely for Nina, but how far this film intrigues as a narrative is variable. The soap opera staple of surrogacy is more or less abandoned for an indulgent tracking of Nina's trajectory towards self-actualisation. This involves various sequences within a staple gay club, which is as escapist and sybaritic as you like, and loaded visits to art exhibitions (one interactive installation is composed of pink crepe sheets and Magda remarks that "it's like sitting in a cunt"-!). To this end, the cold concrete set ups of Warsaw are excitedly contrasted with the soft hued mise-en-scenes of Magda's world, just as her youthful energy is set against boring, blokey Wojtek, and Nina becomes a celebration of its protagonist's acceptance of herself. This heartfelt style does make Nina highly watchable, but it is a shame that the film itself doesn't take on some of the oblique lightness of the lesbian scene it portrays. During certain moments the po-faced, deeply serious storytelling can be unintentionally, and unfortunately, hilarious: at a point when neither party has shown their hand (as it were), Nina nonchalantly quizzes Magda about her genetic history and whether there has been "any disease" in her family. Magda, unaware of the surrogacy plan, asks why she wants to know: "no reason," comes the implausible answer. There is also an awkward ambient score of too-loud strings and horns, which bursts out over the soundtrack in a variety of alarming and misplaced ways.

Nina review

Furthermore, it also is difficult to imagine how a child would figure within Nina's highly passionate and social new-life. The film itself proposes her unsuitability when, perusing a gynocentric art exhibition, an incredulous Magda asks, "You were going to bring your pupils here?!" Perhaps (in a character development which would make the unpleasant final act even more devastating) Nina doesn't actually want a kid at all, and it is simply the heterosexual hegemony of family which Nina has been conditioned to believe she needs to fulfil. Could the film be a low-key satire of such predominant social values? If not, then Nina still has a great deal of merit in its strange, dreamlike atmosphere and committed performances: a welcome glorification of liberated passion and sexual utopias.

Nina is on MUBI UK now.