Kinoteka Polish Film Festival: Nina Review
Nina (Julia Kijowska) is in her thirties, a teacher. She and her mechanic husband Wojtek (Andrzej Konopka) have been trying for a child for some time and are now exploring surrogacy options. However, this falls down when the latest potential surrogate wants too much to do with the child than Nina is comfortable with. Then they meet Magda (Eliza Rycembel) in a particularly dramatic way, when Nina’s car runs into Magda’s. Wojtek offers to fix Magda’s car, and the possibility of Magda becoming their surrogate comes up. However, Magda is openly gay, and non-monogamous at that. Soon Nina finds herself drawn to her...
Poland is a country with a longstanding Catholic background, and it’s perhaps not surprising that it took a while before the film industry began to make LGBT-centred films. Until 2013, maybe, which was the year that both Floating Skyscrapers and In the Name of... were released. That’s not to say that LGBT characters didn’t appear in earlier Polish films – there’s a gay man in Provincial Actors, made in 1979, for example – but they were certainly not usual. That film is particularly salient here, as its director, Agnieszka Holland, is credited here for “artistic supervision”. Her daughter Kasia Adamik, also a film director, is this film’s editor and the partner of the co-writer (with Marta Konarzewska) and director Olga Chajdas. This is Chajdas’s first feature, following short films and television episodes, including two of the alternate-history Netflix series 1983. Chajdas was also assistant director on Holland’s Oscar-nominated In Darkness, in which Kijowska played a role.
While you can’t doubt the sincerity of this film, the authenticity of its background and its no doubt personal resonance for its makers, Nina is a fairly standard coming-out story, well acted but a little too remote for its own good. Another aspect which is specifically Polish is that childlessness has more of a stigma in that country, especially for women. There are hints that Nina doesn’t, deep down, actually want a child and is simply going along with what is expected of her. There’s certainly food for thought in Nina and individual scenes do work very well – for example, a conversation scene where Nina and Magda sit inside a giant womb-like art installation - but the major issue with the film is that at 124 minutes it’s a good half-hour too long.