Saturday, January 14, 2023

REVIEW: Nelly & Nadine

There are many who may claim that the Holocaust is an exhausted topic. But sometimes, a new film comes along that brings to light a new perspective that feels essential to our understanding of this horrifying era. One such film is Margus Gertten's "Nelly and Nadine", which uncovers an extraordinary love story kindled in the hellish setting of the concentration camps. 

The film opens with footage from 1945, panning over a mass of faces who have been recently saved from the camps and are arriving on more welcoming shores. Select individuals are indentified by the narrator, with one sullen face in particular drawing the most attention. Her name is Nadine Hwang and "Nelly and Nadine" tells her story about the unlikely romance she kindled with a woman named Nelly. Decades later, this film explores their lesbian relationship with the assistance of Nelly's granddaughter and the wealth of documented memories they left behind.

Following the pristinely preserved opening black and white images, "Nelly and Nadine" shifts to the present day to introduce us to that granddaughter. Initially, she is hesitant to examine her grandmother's belongings and the painful memories. But she turns out to be the perfect guide for this journey, as we are able to experience the emotions of new discoveries with her while she undergoes this personal reckoning.

That journey begins with the haunting, evocative words from Nelly's diary which paint a picture of her experiences through her remarkably detailed observations. Indeed, the film would be effective on the basis of this narration alone. But Gertten digs further into the couple's personal archives to find photos, music recordings (Nelly was a talented singer), home videos, as well as revelatory discussions with family friends and historians. Complemented by expertly chosen stock images and videos of city streets, rugged concentration camps and open fields, it makes for a transporting viewing experience.

What results is a bittersweet, globe-trotting journey that encompasses an indefatigable love, as well as the broad tentacles of the monstrous Holocaust. Indeed, one of the most fascinating trails of this extensive narrative is the exploration of Nadine's background and how she became embroiled in the Holocaust as a Chinese woman. 

As is stated in the film, "nothing is real until it's expressed." And in our "post-truth" era, "Nelly and Nadine" thus serves as a vivid remembrance of Nazi terror and marginalized love. One can't help but be deeply moved by it.

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