Wednesday 14 September 2016
2015 UK Directed by The Blaine Brothers
UK cinema release print.
One of the things that makes looking at the cinematic arts a worthwhile experience is that, just occasionally, you get something popping up which is an absolute joy to watch and which reminds you exactly why you spend so much time watching flickering images projected onto one screen or another in the first place. Nina Forever, a film I kind of picked up on as being something to watch out for while on Twitter towards the end of last year, is one such monument to near cinematic perfection. It’s also very cheap on Blu Ray right now (always a help) and, despite winning a number of festival prizes, still doesn’t seem to be very well known and, frankly, that’s really got to change. This is definitely a movie which people should know about.
The film is centred around trainee paramedic (and part-time supermarket worker) Holly, played by Abigail Hardingham and Rob, played by Cian Berry. Holly admires Rob because, after the death in a car accident of his girlfriend Nina (played by Fiona O'Shaughnessy), he had tried to kill himself. Following a break up with her current boyfriend who leaves her because she is ‘too vanilla’ and ‘not dark enough’, Holly actively tries to insert herself into the distressed Rob’s life and, after not very long, the two become involved. However, their troubles start right from the very first time they begin to get intimate because, you see, the damaged, bloody, ghostly corpse of Nina manifests itself in their bed and starts making acerbic comments every time the two are in the middle of ‘getting it on’. This is no flimsy apparition, either, as Nina leaves her mark on things whenever she is manifested and, pretty soon, dumping the blood soaked bed sheets and turning over the bloody mattress becomes a regular fixture of Holly and Rob’s life.
And so that’s the basic set up of the movie but, despite how that sounds, the film is far from being a horror movie or, to be honest, even the “fucked up fairytale” the film’s cover proclaims it to be. In actual fact, it’s a poignant, sometimes very touching but, almost always, very charming romantic comedy.
Let’s start with the acting. Abigail Hardingham is unbelievably cute in this and one of those actresses who you fall in love with immediately you start to get to know her character. She is just absolutely amazing, does wonders with her facial reactions/expressions and has the audience involved with things right from the outset. Cian Berry is also pretty cool and turns in a strong performance, with some great comic timing, as the movie progresses towards its unusual conclusion. Fiona O'Shaughnessy’s Nina, apart from being the talking point that moves the tale forward, is actually not in it for a lot of the time as she only pops up when the two main protagonists are having sex, but she does bring her own dynamic to the picture and is a perfect contrast to Hardingham’s Holly. I can imagine that, if this film had been made 20 years ago, it’s the kind of role someone might have asked Eileen Daley to have a go at. Although her personality grates in contrast to the others, she is the much needed third part of this triangle which lives within the film and takes the audience on a journey like none before.
The film starts with some beautiful titles which, even on Blu Ray, are hard to read. These slowly fade in and then suddenly flare up into readability for a fraction of a second before quickly diminishing to make room for the next. An electronic build up on the foley suddenly turns into the sound of a motor vehicle crash and then we see the very first shot of the movie. And it’s seriously arresting and beautiful in its stillness as we see a roadway with Rob and his crashed bike with dominant blues and blacks in the colour palette, a slow rising column of smoke adding the only real movement in this long held shot until Rob starts moving again and we realise he is alive. It’s actually quite breathtaking in its beauty and, like a lot of the establishing shots seen throughout the film, containing a kind of dream-like and contemplative quality that I could only compare to the poetic cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky.
The film is just full of wonderful stuff like this and, combined with the absolutely spot on character acting, contrasting with some beautiful moments of visual punctuation, it all contributes towards marking this film out as a minor masterpiece. Like a couple of films have done recently, for better or worse, the Blaine Brothers use animated, typographic text on screen to illustrate what’s going on when various characters text each other. Far from being distracting and gimmicky as it was earlier in the year in The Shallows (reviewed here), this actually adds a layer of emotional depth to the proceedings and perfectly captures the unspoken communication which has begun to dominate our daily lives. For instance, after their first ‘almost date’, Holly is woken in the middle of the night by a text from an ‘unknown’ caller (meaning she hasn’t gotten around to putting Rob’s name in as a contact on her phone yet), simply saying “I really wish I’d kissed you.” The text goes unanswered but the expression on her face tells us that she is looking forward to the start of a new relationship.
Another perfect moment where text is used to augment the emotional qualities of the movie is when Rob, who has been in an argument and is spending time away from Holly, leaves the house of his dead girlfriend’s parents and starts to write a text to Holly... but we then see the text backtrack and erase itself as we realise that he is uncertain of what to say... whether the text would cause more harm than good... and he then decides to leave his thoughts unsaid. It’s great stuff and shows how much the writers, directors and, of course, the actors, understand these carefully observed moments which are part and parcel of everyday, contemporary life.
Asides from the stunning photography, capturing an almost ‘other worldly realm’ whenever any of the characters are on their own, the film has some nicely put together pieces of ‘visual stuttering’ which almost reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey in their sophistication and the sheer arrogance of the directors at making the sequences work in this manner. For instance, the first time Holly takes off her clothes, as she is about to make love to Rob for the first time, it’s approached in little flashbacks from a point when Holly is thinking back to it. However, these little twos and fros, backwards and forwards in time as we watch Holly remove her clothes and watch her remembering removing her clothes, displaced and fractured from the main narrative conventions, serves to set up the scene as we are about to see it played out back in the present, in real time... and when we see it again, certain parts are left out for the sake of brevity and it’s the perfect balance, once more displaying the deft touch of the directors/editors as they weave a spell of timeless romance and still having it make perfect sense in terms of the way our brains decode this visual syntax.
And a word about those sex scenes... since it’s about the manifestation of a dead girlfriend who only comes out to play when sex is happening. There are a fair few of them but, somehow, the directors manage to make them both incredibly raunchy and, amazingly tastefully shot at the same time. Which is no mean feat when you think about it. And it's brilliantly light visual touches riffing on a more ‘in your face’ theme, along with stunning lines such as “Neither of us thought permanent marker was permanent enough”, that help to make Nina Forever the absolute triumph of movie making that it is.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Nina Forever absolutely blew me away. It’s both intense yet achingly sweet in its dissection of young love and, to boot, it has an ending which I really didn’t see coming and which is, in some ways, a bit of a twist. Well, okay, I can’t truthfully say I didn’t contemplate the possibility of this kind of conclusion but I jettisoned the possibility that the ending could play out like this because it’s not the easiest to articulate and I was personally plumping for one of two other endings... one ecstatically happy and the other one kind of bittersweet in its finality and gateway status when, in fact, the ending which we do get is infinitely more interesting and, in some ways, a lot stronger than the one I was most expecting. I can only applaud the subtlety and the challenge to one of the characters that this particular ending brings (and it’s really, probably, not the one you are thinking it could be) and I have to say that this movie really marks out the Blaine Brothers as immense cinematic talents to look out for in future (and I’ll certainly be looking out for Abigail Hardingham too, you can bet on that).
If I’d have somehow managed to see this at the cinema last year, bearing in mind I’m not even sure this movie got any kind of mainstream release beyond maybe a few festival screenings, then this movie would easily have made one of the top few places of my ‘greatest films of the year’ list. As it is, this one is certainly a hard recommend from me and, all I can say is, I wish I’d discovered this earlier. It’s still haunting me now, weeks after first watching it. Give it a go if you get a chance... it’s got a magic all of its own.