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    Crime and Punishment 2004

    With "Nina," promising young director Heitor Dhalia takes the themes of Dostoyevsky's classic novel to the tenements of Sao Paulo but comes up empty in drawing lessons from his story of a feud between a goth misfit and her elderly landlord.


    "Nina" could have easily been called "Crime e Punicao em Sao Paulo," because that's exactly what it is: a modern version of the great Russian novel "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the story of a man who kills an old woman because he believes himself to be above moral codes and laws. In "Nina," the setting is today's Sao Paulo instead of St. Petersburg a century ago, and rather than a young male student, the deadly philosopher is a young female comic-book artist with the drawing talent of R. Crumb and the macabre viewpoint of Harlan Ellison.

    Directed by: Heitor Dhalia.
    Written by: MarŤal Aquino, Heitor Dhalia.
    Cast: Milhem Cortaz, Anderson Faganello, Juliana Galdino, Ailton GraŤa, Sabrina Greve, Lu’za Mariani, Selton Mello, Wagner Moura, Myrian Muniz, Matheus Nachtergaele, Walter Portela, L‡zaro Ramos, Eduardo Semmerjian, Renata Sorrah, Guta Stresser, Nivaldo Todaro, Guilherme Weber.
    Cinematography: JosŽ Roberto Eliezer.
    Edited by: Estevan Santos.
    In Portuguese with English subtitles.
    La CinemaFe 2004
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  • Young Nina — with her smeared black eyeliner and deep black shags of hair that droop into her eyes — parties and fucks with a vengeance when she ignores the rest of her life. She seems content when screwing in bathrooms and partying to techno until all hours of the day and night. Her home life is less than to be desired — she resides as a tenant in a large apartment with an old miser woman Eulalia — but for unknown reasons spends more and more time at home as the movie progresses.

    Even Nina's clothing — black lace-up boots, black mini and a "Suck My Dick" T-shirt (in English, not Portuguese) — is identical to the garb worn by Goth teens everywhere. Nina's like any bright-eyed young adult who leaves the safety of home for the excitement of the big city, only to find herself trapped in an uncomfortable rent situation with an intolerable landlord/roommate. She could be my next-door neighbor.

    Even Nina's clothing — black lace-up boots, black mini and a "Suck My Dick" T-shirt (in English, not Portuguese) — is identical to the garb worn by Goth teens everywhere. ... She could be my next-door neighbor.  

    While the city is Sao Paulo, the story could take place almost anywhere. Many Americans who view "Nina" may be surprised that the film comes from Brazil. While the cliche of Brazil for most Americans is a green, lush land set on a beach with scantily clad men and women bronzing themselves, the realities of modern Brazil are much different. The country includes concrete jungles like Sao Paulo, cities replete with graffiti, traffic, overcrowding, and what might be considered a middle class living in a state of ennui. Nina and her geriatric roommate could reside in New York's East Village or San Francisco's Lower Haight just as easily as a neighborhood of Sao Paulo.

    But even more than the Everycity Goth, Nina is the epitome of teenage angst, of a child in way over her head and losing her mind rapidly from the stress. She quits her food-service job unexpectedly (and, from the perspective of a onetime waitress, for no particular good reason) but is near tears when telling ancient landlady Eulalia that she has no money to buy food. In Nina's mind, the world is against her, but she rejects help from friends at the same time.

    Rapidly, Nina descends into hallucinations and anger, as played out in her comic-strip scribbling that adorn her bedroom. It's tough to tell whether the poor gal is suffering from a bad drug trip from partying, or if she comes by insanity naturally. When she does commit the "Crime" part of the "Crime and Punishment" theme of the movie, the authorities can't tell the difference between what could be her real crime and her delusions. The most honest comment on Nina comes from a policeman when he says, "She's not well."

    Yep. This chick's fucked up.

    Despite her obvious troubles, it's hard to pity Nina, or to like her in general. She turns against those who try to assist her, she steals from a blind man, and she does little to help herself. Her words at the opening of the movie — that the extraordinary individual does what it takes to create change, even if she has to commit a crime — ring hollow in the end. No great "change" happens, except for a death that really doesn't affect anyone except the dead.

      Despite her obvious troubles, it's hard to pity Nina, or to like her in general. She turns against those who try to assist her, she steals from a blind man, and she does little to help herself.
    In the end, Nina's just a messed-up Goth kid. She still has no permanent place to live, no close friends, and no real future. She hasn't furthered herself or changed in any way with her crime, which was the whole point of Dostoyevsky's "ordinary and extraordinary" theory — that the "extraordinary" individual will think he can do whatever it takes to help himself regardless of how selfish and destructive the act, but in the end be so wracked with guilt that he can't function. Nina couldn't function in the first place. She acted on the spur of the moment, not in any kind of methodical philosophical plot, and her crime and the emotional aftermath doesn't alter her in any way when it's all over.

    For a first-time director, Heitor Dhalia shows great promise. The camera work is hauntingly precise and well supported by the music, the acting is real (especially by Guta Stresser as Nina and Myrian Muniz as Eulalia) and the dialogue is perfectly sparse. But the movie was disappointing in the end because of a simple yet key mistake on Dhalia's part: Stresser's Nina is in the same psychological state at the beginning of the movie as at the end, therefore giving away the entire emotional effect of the film.

    In Dostoyevsky's book, the main character is overwhelmed by guilt that he turns himself in unnecessarily. He's convinced himself that everyone knows of his crime. The art of the original "Crime and Punishment" is the sense of tension and suspense created by the author. But in "Nina," the gal starts off guilty before she's actually done anything bad, and all sense of tension and suspense is lost, despite the Hitchcockian camera work and music.

    While "Nina" is not a bad film, it doesn't follow through with the director's intention. With a little tension and emotional growth from the main characters, "Nina" could have joined bleak masterpieces like "Requiem for a Dream" and "Leaving Las Vegas." Keep your eyes open for the next Dhalia film. If this beginning director learns from the error in "Nina," his future filmmaking will be something to see.

    AUGUST 15, 2004

    Reader comments on Nina:

  • Nina   from Laura Zelenko, Aug 11, 2005
  • Re: Nina   from Domingo, Jan 30, 2009

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