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

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady [...]

  • Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama

    Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama Title 'Family Members' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patra Spanou has picked up world sales rights to “Los miembros de la familia” (Family Members), which will world premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Variety has been given an exclusive first look of the film’s trailer. The film is the second feature from writer/director Mateo Bendesky, and is produced by Agustina Costa [...]

  • Great Point Media, The Development Partnership

    Great Point Media, Development Partnership Join Forces on Slate of Movies

    Great Point Media and The Development Partnership, the development and production arm of the talent agency the Artists Partnership, are joining forces to develop, package, and co-produce multiple films, kicking off with three projects, including “Chasing Agent Freegard,” starring James Norton (“War & Peace”). “Chasing Agent Freegard,” which is being produced by “Captain Phillips” co-producer [...]

  • Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’

    Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’ Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s Miami-based FiGa Films, a leading sales agent on the independent Latin American scene, has announced the acquisition of Brazilian doc “Landless,” and released a trailer for the Costa Rican-Spanish drama “El despertar de las hormigas.” Both features will play at this year’s Berlinale Forum and come from young Latin American filmmakers making their [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds Cancels Arm Surgery to

    Ryan Reynolds Cancels Arm Surgery to Promote 'Deadpool 2' in China

    Ryan Reynolds canceled surgery on his arm to fly to China and charm “Deadpool” fans in Beijing on Sunday ahead of the franchise’s unexpected China theatrical debut. Just last week, Fox suddenly announced that a re-cut, PG-13 “Deadpool 2” would hit Chinese theaters starting this Friday – the first time the notoriously blood-splattered and foul-mouthed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content