You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rotterdam Film Review: ‘Nina’

This frank, energetic depiction of lesbian sexuality is undone by a plot too full of unanswered questions and flawed logic.

Olga Chajdas
Julia Kijowska, Eliza Rycembel, Andrzej Konopka, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Maria Peszek, Táňa Pauhofová, Irena Melcer, Ana Nowicka, Edward Kalisz, Ryszard Jabłoński, Magdalena Czerwińska, Alicja Juszkiewicz.

2 hours 9 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7461300/reference

There are so many things that don’t add up in Olga Chajdas’ debut feature “Nina” that the film’s bold perspective gets subsumed under a deluge of unanswered questions and flawed logic. It doesn’t help that the central couple looking for a surrogate womb don’t seem especially keen on being parents, nor is it believable that the woman they set their eyes on is their last chance, or so they keep saying. In the end, the surrogacy thing is really a side element to the driving force of the narrative, which is the wife’s awakening to her attraction to the other woman, a cool-headed, independent lesbian who shouldn’t give this pair the time of day but somehow gets swept up by heady passions. “Nina” is notable for its energetic celebration of lesbian sexuality, yet notwithstanding the positive reinforcement of Rotterdam’s Big Screen Award, play will be limited to the LGBTQ circuit, though even there, a significant level of narrative dissatisfaction is inevitable.

The bond between Nina (Julia Kijowska) and Wojtek (Andrzej Konopka) seems less than an ideal partnership. Maybe that’s because she’s a brittle high school French teacher from an upper-middle-class intellectual family and he’s a mechanic clearly out of his element in their elegant apartment. Airport security guard Magda (Eliza Rycembel) is in a relationship with chic stewardess Ada (Táňa Pauhofová), but she plays the field in the frequent times her lover is away. Then one day Nina absentmindedly backs into Magda’s car, conveniently near Wojtek’s shop. Attracted to Magda’s natural beauty and palpable inner strength, Wojtek suggests to Nina that they seduce the young woman into being the surrogate they need to conceive the child that’s meant to hold them together.

Chajdas composes many of these early scenes with a play on focal points, getting cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk to shoot through panes of glass where edges and background remain fuzzy and lighting levels are frustratingly low. Maybe that’s because Nina’s only been seeing half the picture, or her view’s been distorted. Either way, it conveys a sense of destabilization that also works against audience connection with the characters, notwithstanding the camera’s close proximity.

Following a pot-filled evening Magda bails on the couple, but Nina decides she’s the ideal candidate and sets out to win her over while still hiding the reason for her interest (though surely Magda should have some idea when Nina enquires about any genetic diseases and asks for childhood photos). To really get Magda in the mood, Nina takes her to an art installation, Natalia Bażowska’s “Birth Place,” which is meant to recreate the experience of being in a womb. The two women get comfortable, snuggle into the pulsing red space, and Nina finally says why she’s interested. Shock. Then Magda tells her she’s lesbian. Further surprise. Really?

Suddenly Nina questions herself: What is this attraction she’s feeling? Magda takes her to a lesbian club where the sexually charged atmosphere turns intoxicating, though Wojtek, who seems to be looking in through a window, appears out of sorts as he watches his wife get in touch with her repressed desires. Or could it be bad editing that gives the unlikely impression of a Polish LGBTQ club with windows looking out on the street?

Editing clearly is a problem for “Nina,” which runs more than two hours and could easily be trimmed of a number of scenes, including those with Nina teaching her students about Godard’s “Contempt.” Chajdas’ concept is fine, and sequences in the club, together with scenes of Magda and her friends, have a much-needed playful energy. But when Nina’s surprised sister asks if she’s bisexual, and the answer is “I’m Magda-sexual,” who can repress a snigger?

The fault certainly doesn’t lie with either actress: Kijowska (“United States of Love”) is appropriately flinty, and Rycembel is an engaging, natural presence, yet they’re in need of a much tighter script. It would also help if someone turned on a light occasionally — Chajdas has a fondness for darkened spaces, particularly ones awash in red light (a further womb reference?). The peculiarly haphazard use of minimalist music also seems ill thought out.

Rotterdam Film Review: 'Nina'

Reviewed online, Rome, Feb. 4, 2018 (In Rotterdam, Berlin film festivals.) 129 MIN.

Production: (Poland) A Film it production. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Producer: Dariusz Pietrykowski. Executive producers: Pietrykowski, Zdena Šišová.

Crew: Director: Olga Chajdas. Screenplay: Marta Konarzewska, Chajdas. Camera (color): Tomasz Naumiuk. Editor: Kasia Adamik. Music: Andrzej Smolik.

With: Julia Kijowska, Eliza Rycembel, Andrzej Konopka, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Maria Peszek, Táňa Pauhofová, Irena Melcer, Ana Nowicka, Edward Kalisz, Ryszard Jabłoński, Magdalena Czerwińska, Alicja Juszkiewicz.

More Film

  • Disney Fox Takeover Placeholder

    Disney, Fox Employees Grapple With Day One Transition on Two Hollywood Lots

    What kind of a boss will Disney be? That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to [...]

  • Derek Tsang Hong Kong actor Derek

    'Better Days' Director Derek Tsang Lands in World Cinema Spotlight

    Hong Kong actor-director Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang has recently found himself in the spotlight of the world of cinema, but for the wrong reason. Tsang will be joining a Hong Kong filmmakers panel at FilMart on Thursday with Sunny Chan (“Man on the Dragon”) and Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in a Puff”). The 39-year-old filmmaker was expecting [...]

  • Jen Hollingsworth Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Promotes Jen Hollingsworth to Chief Operating Officer of Motion Picture Group

    Lionsgate veteran executive Jen Hollingsworth has been promoted to the newly created post of chief operating officer of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. She will work closely with Motion Picture Group chairman Joe Drake to ensure the film division’s strategic initiatives and corporate priorities encourage filmmakers’ artistic visions to thrive. More Reviews Sara Bareilles Premieres New [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Solstice Studios Boards Thriller 'Unhinged' From 'Disturbia' Writer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Solstice Studios has acquired “Unhinged,” a psychological thriller from “Disturbia” screenwriter Carl Ellsworth and “Warrior” producer Lisa Ellzey. The studio is currently out to directors. The script revolves around an extreme case of “road rage.” It’s the story of a mother whose decision to hit her horn upsets the wrong guy and leads to some [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    'Bill & Ted 3' Sets 2020 Summer Release Date

    Excellent! “Bill & Ted 3” has a release date. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter will return to the big screen in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” on Aug. 21, 2020. The duo made the announcement in a short video shot at the Hollywood Bowl, where they’ll “never play.” Production began on Wednesday. More Reviews [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson Join Christopher Nolan's Next Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson are on board to co-star with John David Washington in Christopher Nolan’s next movie, Variety has learned. Nolan recently finished the script for the currently untitled film and Warner Bros. quickly dated it for July 17, 2020 — a slot the studio often reserves for the director, most recently with “Dunkirk.” [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content