If her first film is anything to go by, Dutch writer/director Saskia Diesing is definitely one to watch. Nena is a beautifully shot coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old girl who lives on the Dutch-German border in the late 1980s.
Nena’s father has suffered from MS for as long as she can remember. He now has very limited mobility, and is forced to move in with his brother Paul, a devout Christian. Nena and her father share a special bond; an evenly-matched intellectual ability that shows through when they play chess, or argue about literature vs. music. Or quietly diss Uncle Paul’s religious persuasions. They do not talk incessantly, however. It is more of a dour, pithy repartee – a deep bond and a mutual respect that does not require constant verbalisation.
Nena’s parents are divorced, which means that Nena takes on a lot of responsibilities to assist with his care. But she is a regular teenager – an angry one, or even just a disillusioned one. She floats through classes with her unwashed black hair dangling over her beautiful but unimpressed face, getting excellent results without really trying. She meets her match in Carlos, the leather-clad, badass pitcher on the local baseball team, and they both instantly fall, but all this happens behind a front of stone-faced, slouching nonchalance.
As her father’s situation worsens and her romance advances, the pressures on Nena mount, and she has to decide how she will deal with her father’s wish to die.
The crux of this whole production is the effortlessly cool Abbey Hoes (Nena). But she couldn’t have nailed this role so perfectly without the contributions of Uwe Ochsenknecht (her father, Martin), who shows an amazing depth of emotion in the smallest of movements and facial expressions. Equally impressive is Gijs Blom as cavalier Carlos.
Woven into the story are the news reports of East German tensions, which provide an interesting backdrop for the main action. The stark contrasts in the cinematography coupled with the use of silence make this film feel distinctly European, understated, authentic and powerfully moving. This is coming-of-age at its unadorned best.
Nena does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Nena here: