Nelly and Nadine tells the remarkable story of a decades long secret love affair between two women who met in Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944. This touching documentary explores how Nelly’s family uncovered her diaries and photos after many years of avoiding their secrets.
Nelly and Nadine comes at the story from two directions. Director Magnus Gertten had long been studying some newsreel footage of women arriving in Malmö, Sweden as refugees from the concentration camps. Among all the smiling and waving women he was able to identify and learn more about was a somber looking Chinese woman. She was Nadine Hwang.
Nadine’s father had been a diplomat. She was arrested in Paris. On Christmas in 1944, Nadine was in Ravensbrück when Nelly Mousset-Vos, an opera singer, was performing. Nadine called out from the audience requesting “Madame Butterfly” and the two locked eyes and fell in love while Nelly sang.
Nelly had been arrested as a spy. She had been working for the resistance. The two women began a relationship in that horrible place. They helped each other survive. Later, they were separated. When Nadine reached Malmö, she didn’t know if Nelly was alive or if she’d ever see her again.
The other prong of the story was stored in a Belgian farmhouse where Sylvie Bianchi lived. Sylvie was Nelly’s granddaughter. She had trunks and boxes of material from Nelly that she’d never been able to read through because they made her sad.
There were diaries, photos, movies, and written accounts of the lives of these two secret lovers.
No one in Sylvie’s family had ever admitted that Nelly & Nadine were lovers. The two found each other after the war and moved to Venezuela where they lived closeted for many years.
The documentary shows the family’s slow exploration of the diaries and other material. They had help from historians and conversations and reminiscences with family members. It slowly began to dawn on them what a remarkable history they were uncovering.
The diaries Nelly wrote were detailed, explicit, and beautiful. Nelly and Nadine had typed them all into a manuscript that they hoped to get published. In their time, no publisher would do it. Now, I hope the diaries do get published because they tell a touching, personal history of a life lived for love in a time when it was a shameful secret.
The documentary is in multiple languages, mostly French. It’s streaming on Prime Video. It was released by Wolfe, but I don’t see it on their list of DVDs available for purchase.
I hope this documentary about love and war spurs the creation of a scripted film about Nelly & Nadine as well as the publication of much of the diary material Nelly wrote. It’s a compelling story telling the history of the last 80+ years from a unique perspective.