Nelly & Nadine | Magnus Gertten | Sweden, Belgium, Norway | 2022 | 93´

Synopsis (short): Nelly & Nadine is the unlikely love story between two women falling in love on Christmas Eve,1944, in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Despite being separated in the last months of the war, Nelly and Nadine manage to later reunite and spend the rest of their life together. For many years their love story was kept a secret, even to some of their closest family. Now Nelly’s grandchild, Sylvie, has decided to open Nelly and Nadine’s unseen personal archives and uncover their remarkable story.
Synopsis (long): Nelly & Nadine is the unlikely love story between two women falling in love on Christmas Eve,1944, in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. In the middle of the horror of the war camps, the two women begin their life-long love journey. On Christmas Eve the Belgian prisoner and opera singer Nelly Mousset-Vos had been asked to sing Christmas carols in one of the French populated Ravensbrück barracks. After a couple of songs, a voice calls out from the dark: ”Sing something from Madame Butterfly!”.Nelly hesitates, but then she sings ”Un bel di vedremo”, an aria about the waiting for a loved one. Afterwards the woman who requested the song from Madame Butterfly emerges from the darkness. She kisses Nelly and says: ”The Good Lord has been kind to us”. Her name is Nadine Hwangand this moment Nelly and Nadine become a couple, spending as much time together as possible. But after two months they are separated when Nelly is transferred to a different camp. After being liberated towards the end of the war, they manage to reunite and decide to start building a life together. For many years Nelly and Nadine’s lifelong relationship was kept a secret, even to some of their closest family. Now Nelly’s grandchild, Sylvie, has decided to open Nelly and Nadine’s unseen personal archives and uncover their remarkable story. Among the photos, love letters, and film reels in the archive, there is also a diary written by Nelly. In these previously unpublished personal notes, she tells her life story including details about being in love in the middle of the camp horrors, the complicated reunification with Nadine after the war, deciding to move to Venezuela so they could live freely and coming back to Europe in the early 70’s to spend their last years in Brussels. Nelly & Nadine is a remarkable story about war sufferings, mysteries, love against all odds, the healing power of music, well kept secrets, and the complicated family stories of concentration camp survivors, still trying to deal with the ghosts of the past
Director: Magnus Gertten
Producer: Ove Rishøj Jensen
Director’s QA: Q: Where does the idea for Nelly and Nadine come from?
The idea for Nelly and Nadine goes all the way back to 2007. That was the year when I started to investigate a historical event in my hometown Malmö, Sweden. During a couple of months at the end of World War II almost 15.000 survivors from the concentration camps in Nazi Germany were rescued to Sweden. In the harbour of Malmö these survivors took their first steps of freedom. One of these days, April 28, 1945, was carefully documented by Swedish news media. Some of the best film photographers were in place to capture haunting images, often in close up, of people who just escaped the horrors of the camps. The archive footage from Malmö is around 40 minutes long and unique in its kind. I became fascinated by the faces in the material, the newly liberated survivors who were standing in the harbour of my hometown. I asked myself: would it be possible to identify these survivors, almost 70 years later? There a long cinematic journey started which led to two different documentaries: Harbour of Hope (2011) which tells the big story about how a Swedish city takes care of the survivors in 1945, and Every Face Has a Name (2015), which is a more conceptual mission to put names to the anonymous faces. These two films, I’m proud to say, have been able to travel the world and collect awards. Q: Who are the people you manage to identify in the footage from April 28, 1945?
The survivors in the archive footage from April 1945 are from different backgrounds, among them Jewish survivors, members of the Belgian resistance, British agents, Norwegian resistance men and Polish women with newborn babies. We were able to identify many fascinating stories of the survivors. One of the most enigmatic persons in the footage from the harbour was of a Chinese looking woman, standing against a wooden fence wearing a striped camp uniform. She had a very serious face, unlike many others who were openly happy about their liberation and the arrival to Sweden. During the editing of my two first documentaries, we always came back to the images of this fascinating woman. What is she thinking of in this moment? What became of her after the war?
Q: How did you find out about the story of Nelly and Nadine?
At first we were just able to find out her name – Nadine Hwang – and it took a year after the premiere of Every Face Has a Name until we discovered what happened to her after the war. A Venezuelan woman, based in Paris, had noticed our search and call for help, published in social media. She wrote us that Nadine Hwang was her babysitter when she was an infant back in Caracas, Venezuela at the end of the 60’s. The final missing pieces of information on Nadine Hwang came when I visited a screening of Every Face Has a Name in Paris late 2016. There I was approached by the farmer couple Sylvie and Christian. They gave me the full story about the relationship between Nadine Hwang and the Belgian singer Nelly Mousset-Vos, who’s Silvie’s grandmother. In the attic of their farm was a treasure of archives, including a diary from the camp years. So suddenly I had another big story, related to the archive footage from Malmö 1945, in my hands. I certainly never dreamed of ever making one more film in this setting, but I realised I had to take care of this gift.
Q: How has it been to make Nelly & Nadine?
Doing a WWII and a Holocaust related documentary is challenging. There’s so many of them and you always face the risk that the viewers become immune to these important stories. You definitely need to find a new angle and add something that’s never been told before. I’m lucky to have a love story in my hands. Two women who falls in love in a barrack in the Ravensbrück camp, which gives them the strength to endure the horrors of the Nazi camps. We might have heard something similar before, but the difference is the documentation. Nelly’s diary is a unique and detailed source together with the letters, photos, films etc from later periods of their lives. The revealing of the love story is the core of the film. In the beginning of our film the grandchild Sylvie Bianchi is not aware of the scope of Nadine and Nelly’s love relationship. When the journey ends, she has understood the power of their relationship and their struggle for being true to themselves. The many written testimonies, like the diary and letters, create a strong focus on the two women and brings us close to them. Nelly & Nadine has provided me the possibility to combine my curiosity on history and music with the passion for telling stories about people fighting for freedom, love and the right to be who they are. Once again, I have realized, I have the most privileged job in the world.
Director’s biography: Magnus Gerttenis an award-winning director and producer from Malmö, Sweden. Since 1998, he has directed more than 15 documentaries for SVT and international TV channels. His films have been screened by broadcasters and at film festivals in more than 60 countries. Magnus Gertten is co-owner of Auto Images and the creative centre of the company. Gertten directs a majority of the productions made at Auto Images. He also serves as narrative consultant and adviser on other Auto Images films and on the minor co-productions the company is involved in. Magnus Gertten’s latest works include feature length documentaries Only the Devil Lives without Hope, Becoming Zlatan and Every Face Has a Name. Only the Devil Lives without Hope premiered at cph:dox, HotDocs and EIDF Korea and traveled worldwide to festivals and on television. Becoming Zlatan, co-directed with his younger brother Fredrik Gertten premiered at the 2015 IDFA festival and has traveled to international festivals and was sold for distribution worldwide including a global deal with Netflix. Every Face Has a Name was co-produced and pre-sold to 11 broadcasters worldwide and has received several international awards, including a FIPRESCI Award. The film was screened at The European Parliament. His film Tusen Bitar / AThousand Pieces, co-directed with Stefan Berg, has sold over 160.000 tickets in Nordic cinemas. It was the best-reviewed film in Sweden among all cinema releases in 2014. His documentary Harbour of Hope had a Swedish cinema release and its international festival premiere at Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival in March 2012. Among Magnus’ other films are Rolling Like a Stone (2005) and Long Distance Love (2008). Rolling Like a Stone won the Best Music Documentary Award at the Silverdocs/AFI Festival in 2006. Long Distance Love won Best Documentary at Hamptons International Film Festival in 2009. Long Distance Love focused on Central Asia, just like Only the Devil Lives Without Hope does. Magnus Gertten has a background as TV and radio journalist, including several years as a music journalist. Since 2017 he’s been an honorary doctor at the Malmö University.