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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Nina ***

Starring: Julia Kijowska, Eliza Rycembel, Andrjez Konopka Director: Olja Chajdas Country: Poland “I fell in love with my surrogate and now I’m a lesbian” sounds like it should be the tagline of a Jeremy Kyle special, but in new Polish film Nina, this story is far from sensationalised viewing. Nina (Kijowska) is an over-entitled and over-stressed language teacher whose husband Wojtek (Konopka) has to clear up the messes she leaves in her wake. High-school sweethearts, the couple are now in their thirties and unable to have children. They decide to explore surrogacy, but each of the prospective surrogates take an instant disliking to Nina. When she absent-mindlessly crashes her car, Wojtek has to help the owner of the other vehicle make repairs, who turns out to be Magda (Rycembel), a hot-headed but likeable lesbian, whom the couple both take an instant liking to and decide to approach about being their surrogate. But as Nina spends more time with her in an attempt to convince her, she finds herself drawn to the young woman in a way she didn’t expect before. There is an intensity about Julia Kijowska that makes her a compelling Nina but also explains perfectly how people can take an instant dislike to her. She appears selfish, first and foremost, with high expectations of those around her - essentially, a perfect teacher, albeit wholly lacking in warmth. The moments of vulnerability, when she realises that her hardness has prevented her happiness, are moments of panic from a control-freak without the order she demands. Magda lives at the far opposite end of the spectrum. This is definitely a case of strange bedfellows attracting. The pacing is slow, with the film falling over the two hour mark and at times exhibiting symptoms of inactivity syndrome. This is a character piece but you can’t help but wonder whether it would be more compelling (and concise) if the film’s titular figure was actually Magda, who is by far the more accessible character. A trio of excellent performances certainly gives the plot inertia, but a more ruthless editor could easily have trimmed half an hour from its runtime. At times, you can’t help but feel sorry for Wojtek, who increasingly feels surplus to requirements, even though he’s the most likeable character. A scene between the two women inside a large art-installation womb reinforces the story’s narrative stance that this is solely and entirely about the women and there simply isn’t room for a man here. And when asked if she is bisexual, Nina’s response of “I’m Magda-sexual” is clearly intended to indicate sexual fluidity, but instead sounds corny as hell and dismissive of the man she had previously loved. It’s difficult to stay engaged with a film with an unlikeable protagonist, but Nina manages for the most part. It’s overlong and overwrought, but the character arches and slow burn may prove enough to keep some viewers enthralled.

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