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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Nina movie review: dreary would-be sexual melodrama

Nina red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Overlong and underwritten, tepid and dreary, this would-be sexual melodrama isn’t lurid enough to qualify as soft-core porn, but never finds any true emotion among its triangle of lovers, either.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies by and about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Nina (Julia Kijowska: In Darkness) is a 30something schoolteacher who, with her husband, Wojtek (Andrzej Konopka), has been trying to find a pregnancy surrogate so the couple can finally have a child. Then she runs into Magda (Eliza Rycembel). Literally. With her car: Nina smashes Magda’s car as she’s trying to park while also talking on the phone. Wojtek, a mechanic, offers to fix the car for Magda, and also decides that Magda would be a terrific surrogate. So the couple starts to hang out with Magda without informing her that she has been thus chosen.

It almost sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. Instead, Nina, the feature debut of Polish director Olga Chajdas, is a bit of tepid sexual would-be melodrama: Magda, who is gay, is suddenly appealing to Nina, and the two women embark on an affair. It’s all overlong and desperately underwritten — Chajdas cowrote the script with Marta Konarzewska and star Kijowska — and doesn’t even attempt to create any connection between the women, barely even a physical one. Even if Nina were offered as pure steam, the sex scenes are flat and perfunctory; this isn’t lurid enough or graphic enough to qualify as soft-core porn. It’s mostly depressingly dreary.

As a portrait of a marriage falling apart, which is the other possibility that Chajdas is offering, it just flaps around ineffectually, never finding any true drama or emotion until it gets to its inevitable confrontation between Wojtek and Magda over Nina, which at least evokes disgust and disdain, a stronger reaction than the bored bewilderment the film generates to that point. Just what is Nina trying to say? By the end of its two-hours-plus slog, we’re none the wiser.


Nina is now playing at ICA in London.


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red light 1 star

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Nina (2019) | directed by Olga Chajdas
UK/Ire release: Jan 25 2019

BBFC: not rated

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

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