Nina and Wojtek are a long-married couple hoping to become parents. This familiar story is ruptured by the entrance of Magda, a cathartic force in the titular character’s restricted life. The romantic Nina-Magda dynamic eventually emerges as the film’s strongest attribute. But an unnecessarily patient exploration of this relationship hampers the overall enjoyment. Although intriguing thematic explorations of parenthood and liberty make Nina a well-crafted film, it would be difficult to describe it as an entertaining and fulfilling experience.
Nina and Wojtek’s many years of marriage have been consumed by trying to have a baby. This ambition, rather than love, may be the only thing keeping the pair together. After many attempts, including two expensive, failed in vitro procedures, the embattled couple now seek a surrogate. By chance, they meet Magda. Enticed by her beauty and character, they hope she will agree to help them. Nina takes its characters in an exciting direction when an attraction blossoms between Nina and Magda.
Unbeknownst to Nina, her interest in Magda stems from stark differences. Nina is trapped in her static life as a high school French teacher. She can’t help envying the frivolity that occupies her teenage students. And even in adulthood her independence is limited by her mother, who is the headmistress of the school. On the other hand, airport security worker Magda is younger, unbounded by responsibility or a strained marriage. The pair invite each other into their lives: Magda brings Nina along to house parties to which she grows increasingly accustomed, and Nina shows Magda a womb-like exhibition at an art museum that she frequents. Eventually, this attraction culminates in a physical exploration of their love for one another. The romantic scenes are sensual and carefully constructed, with one instance concluding with Nina and Magda recreating the aforementioned art exhibit’s intimate atmosphere with which the former is obsessed.
Wojtek is aware of the dalliance from the beginning. This bypasses the typical trope of a melodramatic reveal, yet leaves room for tense realisation between the married pair. Despite director Olga Chajdas’ solid grasp of her characters, she takes too long in bringing Nina and Magda together. Moreover, Nina is largely humourless. This is not to say it is necessary to match the comedy of Private Life (Tamara Jenkins’ Netflix film that also explores a couple trying to have a baby), but paying more attention to the fiery Magda would have lifted the film out of the doldrums.
Similarly, the exploration of parenthood through Nina’s overbearing mother and Wojtek’s ill father adds further seriousness that sometimes intrudes on the film’s most rewarding attributes. These details are well-written and well-presented, but they add little. In further evidence of the film not knowing its strengths, striking uses of lighting in varying circumstances are delightful yet too sparsely employed.
Clearly, there are a lot of strong stylistic elements to Nina. The influences of French cinema, right down to the way Nina dresses, are conspicuous in the urban Polish setting. It is undeniable that this is a very well-made film. However, it’s difficult to appreciate all the artistic strengths when they barely bind together to form an effective whole. Compared to male-centred gay dramas, lesbian exploration in cinema is significantly underrepresented. Even with such little competition, Nina is far from being considered amongst the best.