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Ghost in the Light: Nina Forever (A SXSW Review)

Nina 01

By Paul Risker.

From its opening breath, Nina Forever feels like a film that appeals not solely to our superficial and aesthetic gaze, but to our instincts. The opening sounds of a crash and the flashes of light that have become ingrained and associated with accidental tragedy offer a haunting presence. It is as though Nina’s directors, Chris and Ben Blaine, have found a way to possess the camera with an eeriness: a ghost in the machine, as it were. Even at an early stage, this writing and directing team has begun to build a sensory expectation, and while nothing has really happened yet, we can feel our vision narrowing so that all that remains in the field of vision, and all that the viewer is aware of, is what is happening on screen.

Following on from Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2014), Nina compounds the earlier work’s testimony that, even if the sense of feeling derives from the European and American setting, a unique Britishness derives from the landscape. The identity of these two films are intrinsically connected to the spatial settings, and to remove Britain as the stage and the backdrop would invariably compromise the fabric of each film, which owes at least a small part to the surroundings.

In Nina the spatial effect spirals outward to embrace the characters, who in moments resemble closed flowers of the winter months, while in other moments resemble flowers in bloom. What appears to determine the characters’ statuses is the people they interact with and the spatial setting. When introduced as employees in a supermarket, both Holly (Abigail Hardingham) and Rob (Cian Barry) seem strange and aloof  as entities moving through life with no future. And then it quickly transpires that this impression is not wholly accurate, as they reveal themselves to be people with fully fledged connections, a future and ideas. It can only be concluded that the spatial is a determining factor in the identity of not just a work of art but its characters.

Nina 02Taking the raw materials of genre, the brothers Blaine mould Nina out of a combination of black comedy, horror and drama. By the conclusion of the setup the film has piqued your interest, and yet the question looms whether it can continue to offer an immersive experience through a satisfying resolution. Holly, Rob and his dead ex-girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) are consumed within a narrative in which they are searching for resolution. It is here that by intertwining the theme of resolution into the very fabric of the film the writer-directors perhaps play their ‘ace in the hole.’

As Holly and Rob attempt to explore the functionality of a romantic relationship – functionality an intentional phrasing – in the shadow of Nina’s intrusion, the triangle symbolises characters trying to forge a connection in the face of adversity, while an equal focus to terminate those connections exists. At its heart Nina pursues a resolution, while casting a shadow that leaves one unable to escape the need for one. One could be mistaken for thinking that the ghost in the film is not Nina herself but the past: a more obvious theme in contrast to the resolution. But these two themes go hand-in-hand. We emerge into the present from the past which is locked in a state of permanence.

Intended as a black comedy, the humour is dark and subtle: underplayed with an approach that provides the film with a richness that would otherwise be lost. The comedy allows lighter moments to surface amidst the darkness of grief, the coming to terms with the past and finding a means to move forward. The humour is never allowed to suffocate the uncertain resolution for which Holly and Rob are searching, thus leaving open the film’s tragicomic effect.

Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Flickering MythStarburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.

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