Back in the early 00s I was just getting into cinema, and exploring what different countries had to offer took a good chunk of time out of my journey. It's how I came across Nina, a little Brazilian genre flick that made few waves and quickly disappeared from view after its initial release. I remembered liking the film a lot, as it had that twisty, moody vibe I really appreciated, but it had been quite a while and I wasn't too sure whether the film would hold up after all this time. Turns out it still felt quite special, especially now that films like this aren't a dime a dozen anymore.
The 00s were a real treat if you liked films where the main character was slowly losing their mind, getting more and more entangled inside their own paranoia. These films were mood pieces by definition, as they were primarily driven by a disorienting atmosphere, minutely tailored scores, and tightly edited scenes. After a while the formula started to wear a little thin and people decided to move on, but the genre yielded some very interesting films, especially many hidden gems that are still waiting to be rediscovered. Nina is part of that little hidden treasure trove.
It's probably a little too early for a film like Nina to claim its second time in the spotlights. The 90s revival hasn't even peaked yet and a proper HD restore would definitely do the film some good, but once people are ready to revisit these films it has all the qualities to finally get the attention it deserves. The setting is dark and gritty, the characters are grotesque and weird, the soundtrack is pretty banging and there are some flashy flashbacks that hint at past trauma. It's nothing too original of course, but it is all executed with the proper flair and gusto.
Nina is a young woman who is all by herself and is trying to make ends meet. She lives in a small room, but she doesn't have a job and safe some money that she gets sent from her parents, there's no stable income. Her landlady is tired of begging for due rent and shows no compassion for Nina's situation. She keeps making the housing rules stricter, hoping to force Nina out of the room. When she finally finds a new tenant, time is running out for Nina. She becomes desperate and in her mind, she starts to entertain the idea of killing her landlady.
It's a shame nobody has bothered to do a proper HD cleanup of this film so far, as the film certainly looks stylish enough. The low-res rendition may even add a little extra grit and grain in places, but I'm sure some extra clarity and sharpness would be of greater benefit to the cinematography. The film is bathed in dark, muted colors, the camera work is evocative and the editing is tight and precise. It's nothing too out of the ordinary for a film that goes for a bit of mindfuckery, but it is executed with the proper sense of style and it does find novel ways to set itself apart.
One of my oldest pet peeves is that films are horrible at nailing party music. While a good electronic thump can be extremely cinematic, it is often deemed too alienating for the general audience. Instead, you often get weird dance music derivatives that no one in their right mind would ever dance to. There's none of that here. Nina is a techno fan and when she attends parties the music sounds 100% believable. The rest of the score is cool too, but again, remains within the realm of the expected. The score is there to translate her inner unease and does a pretty solid job, but it does so using familiar soundscapes.
Guta Stresser is an interesting choice for the lead role. She's not really the best actress, but she has a peculiar, droopy expression that makes it difficult to read her character, which adds to the overall intrigue. Myrian Muniz is the true star of the film though. She's downright evil as the unbudging landlady, being one of those characters you just love to hate, a villain in the truest sense of the word. The rest of the cast is there in a purely supportive role. They're not too bad, but chances are you won't remember them once the film is finished. It's all about the two leads, and they deliver.
People familiar with these types of films won't be too surprised by how Nina is set up and what choices it makes along the way. The main character's emotional stability is deliberately kept a mystery, flashbacks add a little context to her current situation but hardly explain everything, and the line between reality and fantasy slowly dissipates as the story progresses. I've seen quite a few of these films now, and they're all quite alike. But this being true genre fare, it's the execution that counts and Dhalia delivers on that front. Your mileage may vary though.
In many ways, Nina is a pretty typical genre flick, but thanks to a handful of minor touches it manages to stand out from its peers. The gritty cinematography and the eerie soundtrack are genre staples, but the Brazilian setting, the spirited performances, and the puzzling finale add that little bit of extra spice. Nina would benefit from a proper HD cleanup, but adventurous fans may want to try it out regardless. If, on the other hand, you're not quite as won over by the genre, just leave it be until someone out there decides to give the film the attention it deserves.