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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 06.28.10] United Kingdom movie review drama

Year: 2008
Directors: Ian Simpson
Writers: Ian Simpson
IMDB: link
Trailer: trailer 1 trailer 2
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 9 out of 10

“Nadine, is that you? Every time I see you, you’ve got something else to do…” Chuck Berry may have been perplexed about the restless activities of his future bride, but he’s not even in the same tenement flat as Ian Simpson, who actually follows his Nadine as she finds lots of something else to do.

None of it nice.

Shot in a seductive mixture of arthouse cool and cinema verité brutal, Nadine is an incredibly powerful look at what it means when “some day… everything goes wrong” for a psychologically disturbed teen at the ignored end of Britain’s impoverished lower classes. The basic plot was revealed on Quiet Earth when Nadine’s second trailer was posted: "Nadine, a teenage girl who is a regular self-harmer, is subjected to a hostile mother, an abusive stepfather, a drug addicted boyfriend and crude sexual violence from the locals. She lives on a desolate council estate surrounded by nature where she finds occasional solace. However, the profound weight of indifference, injustice and cruelty, proves too much for Nadine, whose life enters a rapid downward spiral."

That’s close enough, although the downward spiral is misleading: Nadine’s story is about her misadventures at the bottom of the spiral, and surely anything else must be up from here. This bone-toss to optimism is one of the odder elements of this excellent movie, as writer/director Simpson has chosen to bookend his drama with short docu-style interviews in which Nadine discusses her life and mulls about the future. In between we get to experience what’s she’s talking about. It’s depressing. It’s shocking. It’s a subculture of aggression and instinctual violence equal to the middle-class antics of the characters stuck in the zoo that is JG Ballard’s classic High-Rise.

Yeah, the plot is cool and the action zips along, but what separates Nadine from your run-of-the-tenement-hopeless-poverty-sucks stories is Simpson’s killer direction and his actor’s incredibly great performances.

Simpson’s sense of style is sensational. Apparently shot in black & white, Simpson has allowed just one colour onto his palate – a dark burgundy red, sort of like dried blood. It’s used subtly and seemingly without specific symbolic sense, on shoes, a car, a nightgown, on white sheer curtains… and often not at all. He uses a wide variety of shots, from very long to lingering close-up, and has an affinity for the long slow zoom and perfectly-paced panoramic pans. He’s also very patient. What’s also impressive is his sense of the restrictive aspect of this nether world, where adults hide alone in alcoholism and race hatred, where kids overlap in drugs, sex and casual violence, and to emphasize the “innerness” of it all Simpson keeps it tight and combustible in claustrophobic rooms, ugly tenement halls and the surrounding roads of South London, breaking only occasionally to meander through a neighbouring park, where Nadine comes to recharge – such a romantic.

Simpson also took a chance by casting nothing but non-actors to fill this movie’s many roles. Believe me, you’ll find this unbelievable if you get to see Nadine. I have no idea how Simpson cajoled these performances out of nothing, but there they are and all you can do is wonder. His greatest find is Lisa Jane Gregory, who plays the hapless Nadine to perfection. She’s amazing, especially as a physical actor, although she can turn on the waterworks and crank the emotions as well. Gregory’s presence is amazing. In her suicidal, self-cutting mode, she’s a walking billboard of defeat. Slouched shoulders, perpetually downcast eyes, knock-kneed legs bursting out from under a miniskirt, pigeon-toed feet shuffling in chunky-soled hooker shoes, broken nails, ragged, greasy hair, complete lack of make-up, and underneath, a simmering aggression, all make Gregory’s Nadine a character to watch and remember. The psychic power of the character comes from her unresolved relationship with her lost father, and Gregory is surprisingly good at conveying that emotion. It’s apparent she unknowingly blames herself, hence the self-mutilation as a form of punishment, and her relationships are all coloured with a kind of self-disgust… perhaps the idea behind Simpson’s sporadic use of spot red throughout the film. Menstrual red? The rest of the cast also does a fine job, but you can see how Simpson has carefully set them up so less acting becomes more acting. Nadine’s “boyfriend” Wayne rarely moves or talks. Not only does this make him more enigmatic (he’s supposed to be an artist), it does away with virtually every amateur fault! This basic technique – keep it simple when you have to – works well with the sparse style and B&W format Simpson has chosen, and actually adds to the vacancy of these people’s lives, where their social status and possibility of escape is so low that any intellectual concerns are completely dominated by the instinctual emotions, by addictions, by the need for action – any action – to postpone a death by boredom.

In this way Nadine covers more cultural ground than the shoes of its heroine. Simpson’s overall landscape of tenement despair allows him to take a good look at other social issues of the poor and the young, such as crime, rascism and morality, and works up his plot to generously reveal the fears and hates of Britain’s version of American white trash, as well as the dog-eat-dog choices of their youthful black neighbours, who may be thugs and drug pushers, but who dress better and have more money. And get most of the white girls. Hmmm, unsurprisingly similar.

Nadine… you’re always doing something else, you wacky outsider. Is that you? This Nadine is, and if you get a chance to hang out for a day or two in her neighbourhood, I’d highly recommend a visit. But don’t stay to long, OK?

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Uland (12 years ago) Reply

Why do we seem to allow "low class" characters to enact all of our own fears/desires without shame? It seems like we sort of get off on it, no?
Is this film about poor people, or is it about how those of a different class might choose to think about poor people?


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Good points Uland. I think there is an element of voyerism in this kind of lower-class realism as well. It's up to the director to blanace commentary with exploitation - some succeed more that others.

I trust Rick to know the wheat from the chaff though.


rickmcgrath (12 years ago) Reply

I detected no voyeurism in this mostly-psychological look at an individual on the edge. Simpson's direction is way more arty than realistic, basically because of the limitations of his actors and the individual attention he lavishes on the Nadine character, who could have gone through the same psychic hell no matter what her social class. It's not a story about poor people, it's a story that features the poor. And there's really no moral to be drawn here, either -- hence the reference to Ballard's High-Rise, where a motherly building converts its occupants to less-complex forms of social interaction. Nadine isn't "about" class, it's about a teenager who misses her father and deals with it not with the head, but with the heart. I think they call it Drama...


steve lanner (10 years ago) Reply

this is an intersting film with a strong performance from the young lead. good to see a british film that dares to be different. ian simpson is one to look out for.

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