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#HotDocs22 Review: Nelly & Nadine

April 29, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Swedish filmmaker Magnus Gertten’s new documentary Nelly & Nadine reveals the unlikely love story between Nadine Hwang, the Spanish-born daughter of a Chinese diplomat, and Belgian opera singer Nelly Mousset-Vos, two women who met and fall in love at Ravensbrück concentration camp on Christmas Eve in 1944, were reunited after the war, and spent their lives together.

The film opens with black-and-white archival footage from 1945 of hundreds of concentration camp survivors arriving on the harbour in Malmö, Sweden, which provided the basis for Gertten’s previous two films Harbour of Hope and Every Face Has a Name, where he tried to identify the anonymous survivors. Gertten returns to this film reel once again in Nelly & Nadine, honing in on different faces and briefly revealing stories of the survivors and were they went after the war. Among them is Hwang, whose story became one of the hardest to piece together.

It’s a pretty remarkable story that is told in the film by Nelly’s granddaughter Sylvie Bianchi, who lives on a farm in northern France, where her attic is filled with boxes containing old diaries, photos, and reels of Super 8 film that help reveal the scope of her grandmother’s life with Hwang. Gertten follows Sylvie as she finally goes through Nelly’s diary from the camp, which she has left untouched for years, and the film becomes a bit of a detective story as she pieces together the specifics of the relationship between her grandmother and this woman that she lived with.

Despite surviving together and sharing their lives, Nelly and Nadine had to keep their relationship a secret from all but their closest friends, and one of the most poignant elements of Gertten’s film is how he brings their love story into such sharp focus. The film unfolds with a gentle, sensitive touch, including some lingering images of Sylvie’s farm. It not only becomes another moving story about what happened to concentration camp survivors after the war, but also a touching tribute to the queer stories that don’t get talked about.

Screenings:

Saturday, April 30th – 12:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Thursday, May 5th – 5:30 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on May 1st at 9:00 AM.

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