Nina: Tokyo Review

Nina Film Still - H 2012
A capricious romance with a keen sense of style.  

Diane Fleri, Luca Marinelli and Ernesto Mahieux star in young Italian director Elisa Fuksas’ debut feature, which unfolds over one languorous summer in Rome.

TOKYO -- Uncertainty among twentysomethings is hardly uncharted territory but in Nina, the freewheeling feature debut of young Italian director Elisa Fuksas, the dilettante signorita of the title makes this state of youthful flux alluring.

A wistful little contemplation of a generation’s existential insecurity, the film follows Nina (Diane Fleri) as she drifts about a curiously depopulated suburb of Rome over one sun-bleached summer.

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Carefully sculpted compositions and a contagiously languid mood make this Tokyo International Film Festival competition film ideal art house fare. Young audiences – as well as those whose youth is still vivid – will see themselves reflected in the contradictory emotions at play.

Fleri, who followed up her breakthrough in Daniele Luchetti’s My Brother Is an Only Child with roles in Perfect Skin and I Am Love, here sports a brunette Jean Seberg crop to play the provokingly casual Nina.

She’s in her late 20s and has no vocation, no relationship, not even a place to call home, only a vague plan to go to China. A solitary young woman suspended betwixt and between different worlds, she’s certainly not unhappy, but seems to feel the absence of belonging.

It’s summer and the holiday exodus has begun, with Romans fleeing the city for the countryside or the sea. Nina remains, moving temporarily into the wood-panelled, golden-hued apartment of a friend to look after his depressed dog Homer, his hamster and aquarium.

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“Now chaos will make way for chance,” local sinologist Professor De Luca (Ernesto Mahieux) tells her, while overseeing her calligraphy lessons.

The professor is one of many idiosyncratic individuals who will guide her through this sweltering season of growth. Ettore (Luigi Catani) is the 10-year-old boy who appears to be custodian of the building she’s living in and attaches himself to her side, boosting her ego with his earnest affirmations. And Fabrizio (Luca Marinelli), a shaggy-haired cellist whom she meets by chance but who reappears on purpose, will make her question her commitment to being alone.

There is a looseness and unpredictability to the screenplay, which Fuksas co-wrote with Valia Santella, and Nina spends much time aimlessly wandering the streets with the dog, satisfying her voracious sweet tooth with gelato and enormous cakes and flans. She gives secret singing lessons to a girl named Marta (Marina Rocco), whizzes about on a yellow Vespa and amuses herself by blowing bubbles and dancing through empty structures wearing a bear mask.

The film is set in the outer Roman district of EUR, distinctive for its large, modernist buildings and Neoclassical architecture. A preoccupation with colannades and arches and a fixation with composition betray the 31-year-old director’s background: she is the daughter of two leading Italian architects and studied architecture herself before finding an outlet for her creativity in film.

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Despite the meticulous framing, Fuksas and cinematographer Michele D’attanasio manage to create a breezy tone with their visual storytelling, moving through the hazy, lazy days and nights of summer stringing together a series of stylistically diverting vignettes, while conveying a sense of Nina’s indefinable disquiet.

The pretty protagonist is sweet as cannoli, and it’s novel to see love blossom so chastely against a backdrop of opera and fanciful strings.

Cast: Diane Fleri, Andrea Bosca, Luca Marinelli, Marina Rocco
Production company: Magda Film
Director: Elisa Fuksas
Writers: Valia Santella, Elisa Fuksas
Producers: Silvia Innocenzi, Giovanni Saulini
Director of photography: Michele D’attanasio
Production designer: Carmine Guarino
Costume designer: Grazia Colombini
Music: Andrea Mariano
Editors: Eleonora Cao, Natalie Cristiani
Sales: Fandango
No rating, 80 minutes