Yet another review from the splendid SUFF – SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL, I completely missed this one, actually thought it was a pending book review from Kernel Morgan #oops. The festival ran from September 17th to 20th at The Factory Theatre in Marrickville and showcased some EPIC independent content. You can stalk them on Facebook HERE to stay in tune for when they release next year’s schedule.
Sex and death. It’s a powerful combination. The finite nature of life for the biological organism motivating every pump and thrust. Sex is a catharsis, and a way of passing on demons.
Opening scene: An overcast seaside road. A motorbike rider has crashed. The body lies on the damp asphalt, helmet on. Cut to three female supermarket workers gabbing in the car park about a male co-worker that tried to kill himself because his girlfriend died. Holly says “imagine fucking someone that intense”.
Holly (Abigail Hardingham) is given a ‘let’s be friends’ teddy bear from a boy she’s dating and told she’s too vanilla and not dark enough. She has been eyeing off Rob (Cian Barry) at work for some time, because the passion and loss in his life fascinates her. She is a trainee paramedic, and when a graze on Rob’s forearm needs medical attention she volunteers to help him. The pair listen to the song Motorbikin’ by Special Needs (My friend was dead. He lay In a bed … His mother, she cried, and cried … Then the doctor came and waved a magic wand, and he was alive), and Holly cuts open a pomegranate with a box cutter, with the deep red juice trickling down her arm.
This is a clever film. It uses forecasting and symbolism and colour effectively. It keeps the plot simple, capitalises on a truly unique idea, and puts sex and death side by side in a profound way. In the beginning fog lingers over the setting like a character, gradually lifting and allowing the weather to become brighter as the film continues and Holly figures out what Nina really represents.
The sardonic Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) scores all the best lines. Her big wet eyes and heart-shaped lips are barely held up by her broken neck. She appears the first time Rob and Holly have sex, the white sheets becoming stained with blood and her corpse climbs out of the mattress saying drolly “Oh god, not again”. Rob says “You’re dead!” and Nina replies “Sure, but I’ve kept my standards”, disapproving of common supermarket work, and “It doesn’t mean we’re on a break though does it?” As Rob and Holly continue to dispose of blood-stained sheets together, Nina remarks “Don’t know why you bought white”. White sheets are replaced by red, and then black.
Nina also gets deeply poignant lines. She rattles off a string of vivid memories and calmly declares “These things will stay in his head precisely because I am dead. You’re an oil painting that’s still wet. Any good memories you slather out will just get mushed in by what happens next.” When Rob tries to prove his love to Holly by having sex on Nina’s grave Nina says: ”You don’t make happiness, it balloons on anything you don’t scrub too hard” and “You are a Florence Nightingale job-sharing with Linda Lovelace”.
It is revealed that Rob has been meeting up with Nina’s parents once a week since her death. He visits the graveyard with her mother (Elizabeth Elvin), it is gloomy and a raven takes flight. The father (David Troughton) listens to Nina’s music playlists and has a realistic emotional outburst exclaiming that Rob can find another girlfriend but he can never find another daughter. Red wine – a fixture in the film – spills and soaks the fibres of a white tablecloth during the conflict.
The title NINA FOREVER comes from a tattoo Rob sports. Holly gets a copy of the tattoo and tries to involve Nina’s corpse in their sexual activities as a peace offering, knowing that Nina will continue to return every time they get intimate in the bedroom. There are delightful arty close-ups of skin and fabric during the tattooing scene that emphasise the singular concentration that a tattoo provides. This parallels Rob’s confession that he wanted scars so that Nina would always be there.
This film is a powerful metaphor for grief and living with ghosts. It is not from the perspective of the one suffering the loss, but from the new partner trying to contend with the constant comparison. When Holly moves in with Rob she tries to remove all reminders of Nina. We follow her through the exhausting process of scrubbing off the blood smudges that are left behind everywhere Nina appears in the house, in the bathroom, on chairs. Holly makes repeated trips to the bin and creates actual holes – physical spaces and voids – with empty shelves and cupboards.
This film is a tender existential analysis of some difficult terrain: sex as a reminder of death, and the power to heal as an aphrodisiac. Holly’s instructor at her ambulance officer course has a gem of background dialogue: “Some people you will not save” among imagery of anatomical heart diagrams. Her paramedic colleague says “Helping people is the baddest drug on earth” in a meaningful throw-away comment.
NINA FOREVER presents the same ideas about grief and loss as a film like TRULY MADLY DEEPLY, but with the deeply dark humour of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and some added boobs and sex and blood. The blood-drenched carnal act is the catalyst for the characters evaluating who they are as people. The gore – tangible physical injuries and blood – is a representation of otherwise invisible internal hurt. It is hard to see grief or any kind of mental pain. The film pulls together all of these themes with the lightest touch, and in the end the superficial layer is still a riotously delicious comedy-horror flick that everyone will enjoy.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.