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Nina Danino
Early Films: First Memory; Close to Home; Stabat Mater; Now I Am Yours; The Silence is Baroque

Nina Danino's first major exhibition piece was First Memory (1981) which started as a two-screen work that included Super8, tape-slide and sound. Later it became a 16mm film. Over shadowy images of household objects, faded wallpaper and darkened rooms belonging to a bygone era, the filmmaker's voice, as a grown-up woman, recounts the drab and decaying interior. The disjuncture between the adult voice describing a strange and isolated childhood has a haunting effect. The images are also disjointed, interrupted by black and then suddenly illuminated by shafts of sunlight entering the frame from the outside world, emphasising the enclosed space, physically and emotionally. The woman's voice speaks of a mysterious and inert female presence, seemly oblivious to the company of another. She is in her own world, drinking cognac, smoking cigarettes and endlessly looking out, waiting for fulfilment of an unrequited desire. Tension in the film is created through the inter-cutting of black and abstract distortions as the voice describes her perplexed reactions to this female presence who is related by blood, but couldn't be more alien.

The next film, Close to Home (1982/85), is about family division within post-War Germany and between Spain and the filmmaker's birthplace of Gibraltar. In the first part, the camera travels around West Berlin like a tourist, picking out historical monuments and describing their military significance. Despite the rhetoric of the conqueror, the circling claustrophobia of the camera reveals the confinement of the walled-off city as the filmmaker details the history of the blockade. She reads a family letter expressing the formalities of separation. Like the people of the city, the writers are kept apart by forces that they cannot control. The film exposes the contrasts between global power politics and familial intimacy. We are told in another letter that she has missed the excitement as Franco's sanctions on Gibraltar are lifted after nearly twenty years. The Rock is filmed from a boat leaving. It's as if it's too late for the divided places and families. The injuries sustained by these cruel separations are too deep to heal.

Stabat Mater (1990) is a structural film, in that it is quickly edited to create a sequenced rhythm of hand-held images. It opens and closes with laments sung in Holy Week to the Mater Dolorosa. Filmed in Gibraltar, it has a luminous Mediterranean light, but alongside the images of the sun-drenched city, parks, and sea, there are English road signs that look peculiarly out of context. The dominant image is a statue of a young Madonna. Her benign presence is comforting, in contrast to the manic female voice on the soundtrack, performed by the filmmaker. She speaks of her love of flowers and of a man who understands women. She quotes from Joyce's Ulysses, who himself was drawn to Gibraltar, one of the Pillars of Hercules that keep vigil at the intersection of Europe and Africa, and the meeting point of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, The words of French feminist theorist, Helene Cixious, enforce the female presence at the heart of the film. Together with Joyce's disjointed prose that matches the unpredictable cutting of the Stabat Mater, they create a sense of longing and desire, possibly for a home-coming.

Now I am Yours (1993) was made as a meditation on death and the possibility of resurrection. It focuses on the ecstatic experiences of Spanish mystic, St Teresa of Avila. Danino filmed Bernini's statue of The Ecstasy of St Teresa in Rome, a magnificent Baroque sculpture showing St Teresa about to be pierced by the arrow of God's love, held by an angel. Over a montage of images, showing the sculpture from every angle and in increasing detail, we hear the filmmaker recite from the saint's writings about her experience of meeting God. She is at the point of death but she doesn't die. She is unable to move and is wracked with pain, but it is a sweet pain leading her from longing to abandonment and rapture. The film unites the work of art, which contains St Teresa, with words that are her own free expression. It captures a delicious moment of transition between one level of experience and another. Deep and piercing sounds from Diamanda Galas and Shelley Hirsch blend with the spoken words. Intercut between images of St Teresa, is the Catholic Mass, another moment where humans make contact with the divine. Scenes taken from a Spanish film contrast sharply with the stillness of the sculpture as it shows the saint about her convent life, throwing herself to the floor in prostration; thus making a distinction between the life of the physical body and the experience of the spirit which traverses life and death. At the end of the film, there are shots of flowers in a cemetery. Life will always be found in the midst of death.

The Silence is Baroque (1997) is an episode that Nina Danino made for the Dutch-produced European artists' portmanteau film, Rainbow Stories. The film was shot at the Easter Processions in Seville and Granada, where a large statue of the Virgin enthroned and tableaux of Christ's Passion are paraded in Holy Week. El Silencio is the name of a Baroque sculpture of Christ at the moment of death. Among recorded sound from the streets, every aspect of the statue of the Virgin is recounted in detail, including the materials she is made from and the paintwork of her clothing. The film communicates the mundanity of religious practice in the hustle and bustle of the streets. The opening quote from Pasolini's Accatone is about the flowers and mud in the Divino Amore cemetery in Rome (the title is also a scene from Christ's Passion), it denotes the meeting point of exhalted and the low vernacular forms of art as in the street processions of sacred images.

Still from First Memory by Nina Danino, 1981
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