In Reviews

September 24th, 2022

MOVIE: NELLY & NADINE

STARRING: NADINE HWANG, NELLY MOUSSET VOS

DIRECTED BY: MAGNUS GERTTEN

AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)

We live in an era where personal stories from the past can be told through home movies, photos, and journals. Whether we’ll be able to continue doing so in the future is a question as so many of us keep the above hidden on our computers in files that no one might ever see, especially if technology changes. (Remember floppy discs….?!) Let’s hope people are a bit more aware of and careful with the stories they have saved in digital form though. It would be a shame not to preserve and understand our pasts and those of our loved ones. Nelly & Nadine will remind us to do that.

This new documentary is a beautiful attempt at constructing the love affair between two women who met in a concentration camp in World War II. Nelly Mousset-Vos was a famous European opera singer who was arrested by the Nazi’s in 1943. Her granddaughter Sylvie has decided to examine the trunks of visual and written material left by Nelly. She always knew about Nadine Hwang, as the couple lived together for many years after the war in Venezuela. Little was known about Nadine’s background though and the true nature of their relationship was never openly discussed. They were considered “roommates” or “cousins” to many who did not know them intimately.

Writer/Director Magnus Gertten creates a very quiet but powerful portrait here of the couple. Early scenes feature Sylvie contemplating the research she is about to do. Gertten gives us footage of Sylvie having quiet conversations with her husband. She cooks. He works the fields. Cats roam their home. It’s all very lovingly shot and edited. The music is likewise very lush and melancholy. Such scenes can seem staged since we know there is a camera in the room filming their activities and they have clearly decided to include it on this journey. But this is only a prelude to what comes next.

Once the materials are uncovered, the real story begins…and it’s quite interesting to experience. Diary entries that Nelly wrote to Nadine while in the camps are read. It becomes clear that she was not only a wonderful singer but also a very gifted writer. The words are coupled with footage from the camps as well as photos taken after the war. It is then revealed that Nadine shot Super 8 movies of the couple and their friends when they lived in Venezuela. The footage is exquisite as it uncovers two lesbians who loved to entertain and had other gay friends. It’s all silently shot, but again, journal entries provide a poetic aural backdrop.

Gertten also travels with Sylvie as she uncovers details about Nadine’s past and her association with a female literary salon in the 1930s. It’s amazing to see how both women thrived before and after the war. Their relationship also survived in what some might see as being almost improbable considering the time and settings in which they lived.

There are some images and footage here that are sad and even a bit disturbing. What stands out though, is the loving attempt by Nelly’s granddaughter to keep the spirit of their relationship alive. It continues to live and breathe thanks to this film. While the filmmaker takes his time documenting this reconstruction, we are rewarded in the end with a very heart-tugging and emotional portrait that we only have thanks to the physical media which survived both women. You may need tissues by the end but the overall impact of Nelly & Nadine is very powerful and beautiful.

NELLY & NADINE IS PLAYING SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25TH AS PART OF REELING: CHICAGO’S LGBTQ+ FILM FESTIVAL. IT WILL ALSO BE AVAILABLE TO STREAM VIA THE FEST FROM SEPTEMBER 30TH UNTIL OCTOBER 6TH.

3 ½ STARS

Written by: Dan Pal
djpal1@aol.com

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