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Nine Lives (2005)
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by Mel Valentin

"Top-notch acting from the ensemble cast makes 'Nine Lives' worth seeing."
4 stars

In "Nine Lives," winner of the Golden Leopard (Best Film) award at the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival, cinematographer turned screenwriter/director Rodrigo García explores moments of crisis or stasis in the lives of nine women from different ethnicities and social classes. Rather than interweaving the nine episodes or segments into a single film with accidental and purposeful crossovers between the episodes, García instead chose to shoot each episode in a single take, using a Steadicam to capture the inner and outer conflicts, the dramatic (and not so dramatic) resolutions, and the shifting emotional landscapes of his nine characters. The single-take approach focuses each episode on the performances, with each female character made the protagonist of her own episode. A title card introduces each episode.

In "Sandra ((Elpidia Carrillo)," a Latina-American woman incarcerated for an unspecified crime, spends her afternoon in busy work mopping floors and avoiding confrontations with the other inmates. She looks nervously at the clock, finishing her task quickly, in anticipation of a meeting or reunion. In the second segment, Diana ((Robin Wright Penn) runs into an old lover, Damian (Jason Isaacs), at an upscale supermarket. Initial niceties and pleasantries give way to confessional revelations. One character is left devastated by the encounter. In "Holly," an African-American woman (Lisa Gay Hamilton), visits her younger sister, Vanessa (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) at her childhood home, in anticipation of seeing her estranged father. The fourth segment finds Sonia (Holly Hunter) and her boyfriend, Martin (Stephan Dillane), visiting wealthy friends for a housewarming party. Barely contained tensions between Sonia and Martin erupt in an ugly, hurtful revelation.

In "Samantha (Amanda Seyfreid), a young woman near adulthood, lingers at home, helping to keep her parents' marriage together. Her father, Larry (Ian McShane), is disabled and needs constant care. Samantha's mother is exhausted by her role as caregiver. In the sixth segment, Lorna (Amy Brenneman) arrives at the funeral of an acquaintance, the wife of her ex-husband, Andrew (William Fichtner). Not unexpectedly, the other mourners greet Lorna's presence with confusion and, in at least one case, outright hostility. The seventh segment follows Ruth (Sissy Spacek) and Henry (Aidan Quinn), a garrulous, egocentric acquaintance (and potential lover) after they arrive at a local motel. In "Camille," a middle-aged woman (Kathy Baker) faces a life-altering surgery, while her husband, Richard (Joe Mantegna), attempts to support her with clumsy, clichéd platitudes. In the last segment, "Maggie," a woman (Glenn Close) visits a graveyard for a yearly picnic with her daughter, Maria (Dakota Fanning).

Anthology films, even those written and directed by the same filmmaker, tend to vary in quality, sometimes disproportionately. Viewers and critics and likely to remember (and discuss) the "Diana" segment the most, primarily because it contains the most insightful dialogue and committed, intense performances from the leads, Robin Wright Penn and Jason Isaacs. More than any other segment, García follows Penn's character at close quarters, often pressing in oppressively close to expose the play of emotions across her face. Some, like the "Camille" segment feels overly familiar and underwritten. Other segments end ambiguously. Other segments end abruptly or lack focus (the "Samantha" segment comes to mind), because they're more snapshots or vignettes of characters in static situations than stories centered on strongly delineated dilemmas or conflicts. Others involve sharply delineated, if unspoken conflicts (audiences can decipher the source or sources of conflict, with relative ease, however). Still others, like "Sandra" ask audiences to identify and sympathize with the fallen protagonist (we do), but carefully avoid offering visual cues or contextual clues.

Judging or evaluating "Nine Lives" as a whole, however, is more difficult, as it is for any anthology film. At minimum, there's a built-in expectation that the nine different segments are tied or connected together thematically. Showing women in various stages of unease, discomfort, or in crisis mode isn't necessarily a theme, nor is showing some of the characters in near hysterics facing difficult, even impossible, life-choices (oddly, the two women who seem closest to breaking down are minority women). Some are more resilient than others (others aren't allowed to react fully before the film cuts to the next scene). If García simply wanted to show a cross-section of contemporary American women, then he succeeded, if mostly due to a uniformly stellar cast of veteran actresses (even Dakota Fanning can be described as a veteran actress). Each actress is asked to carry a heavy emotional weight or burden in her segment, carrying whole backstories for each character they play without the benefit of exposition (via dialogue or title cards). From the performances on hand, it's obvious García's ensemble cast researched (and rehearsed) their roles meticulously. It's not surprising that "Nine Lives" also won a Best Actress Award (for the ensemble cast) at the Locarno Film Festival earlier this year.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11265&reviewer=402
originally posted: 10/28/05 02:25:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/07/07 Tiffany Losco I found it boring and didn't make any sense. A waste of my $$ Dakota fanning is great! 2 stars
5/08/06 Joe Smaltz probably should have tried to watch it all, but it was borrrrrring! 1 stars
4/20/05 Krisan Graves Better than i expected from Paris... 3 stars
12/09/04 Danish White A great inssight into the many frustraations a modern-day woman can face. 5 stars
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  14-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006



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