Nine (2009)

Director:  Rob Marshall
Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Stacey Ferguson
Plot:  Famous film director Guido Contini struggles to find harmony in his professional and personal lives, as he engages in dramatic relationships with his wife, his mistress, his muse, his agent, and his mother.

Genre:  Drama / Musical / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Song.
Runtime:  118min
Rating:  PG for sexual content and smoking.

Directing a movie is a very overrated job, we all know it. You just have to say yes or no.”

When Rob Marshall revealed that he was going to direct Nine, a film adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, based loosely on Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiography 8 ½ (1963), and starring a mouth-watering cast which includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie and Sophia Loren, immediately there was a near-psychic understanding among observers of cinema that this could be the film to win Best Picture and land Marshall his first directing Oscar.

However, things change very quickly in the frenzy that is Hollywood.  Nine opened to mostly below-average reviews and a dismal record at the box office, never recouping its losses in its short-lived theatrical run in the US.  Perhaps out of sympathy, the Academy decided to reward Marshall’s film with four Oscar nominations, three of which are considered “minor”. Is that enough consolation for Marshall?

Nine is about Guido Contini (Day-Lewis), a famous but fictitious Italian filmmaker who just can’t seem to start on his next film because of distractions caused by his personal (read: romantic and sexual) relationships with a plethora of women.  The film traces his whirlwind life as he tries to comprehend the complexities of love and hate in these relationships.

It is apparent with the release of the hit musical Chicago (2002) seven years ago that Marshall might be unable to outdo himself if he were to pursue another project in the same genre.  In Nine, the extravagant director indeed does not outdo himself, but he comes close to another artistic triumph.  I wish to say this right now: Too many critics have put down this film, but I refuse to join the crowd.

Nine is an excellent film in many ways.  The most eye-catching of which has to be its neatly choreographed song-and-dance routines.  Each routine is edited with considerable skill; the rhythmic movements and variety of camera angles employed to capture them in both its partiality and totality allow viewers to immerse themselves in the musicality of the sequence.

Although the most captivating sequence belongs to the routine “Be Italian” which is impressively performed by Fergie, the most emotionally satisfying (read: best) sequence goes to Cotillard’s powerful, tearjerking rendition of “My Husband Makes Movies”.

Cruz’s Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress is perhaps slightly undeserved; Cotillard should have received that accolade.  In fact, further reading into the film’s narrative (if there is a legible one) reveals that it is Cotillard’s character, Luisa Contini, who represents the film’s emotional core.  Marshall’s film is essentially an exploration of Luisa’s mental state and existential circumstance rather than Guido’s womanizing exploits and his lack of self-control.

Despite the star-studded cast, Nine’s appeal to mainstream consumers appears to be far worse than expected.  It is quite difficult to understand why.  After all this is a well-made film of respectable quality.  I believe the answer may lie in Guido’s character.  To the unconcerned moviegoer (and there are many), film directors are faceless persons behind the camera.  Who gives a damn about them, let alone how they live their lives?

Admittedly, Marshall also bombards viewers with cinematic jargon and in the last shot we see Guido seated in the “director’s chair” on a crane which lifts him up into the air before he mutters “Action!”.  Obviously, this is filmed in such a way that it conveys the message that “the director is king”.  Mainstream audiences will care less.  But I do not.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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bengkooi said…
I agree with you only on the aspect of Marion Cotillard's excellent performance...which was snubbed by the Academy.

While Penelope Cruz had her moments - in the bedroom ( "I'll be waiting for you...with my legs open"...not easy lines to deliver ); in the hotel's restaurant ( "Why should i wait outside?"agonisingly pitiful ...with an extreme closeup shot of her face )...I was much more impressed by Marion Cotillard's performance...for those reasons which you've stated.

The rest of the film was disappointing.

Poor story-telling style....Boring.

As in the case of Chicago,he continues to pay homage here and there to Bob Fosse...all of which we've seen before...right down to the lightings and the song-and-dance editing, including Fergie's big number which is so reminiscent of scenes from Cabaret especially the "Mein Herr" number by Liza Minnelli and gang.

And then, also reminiscent of Francois Ozon's "8 Femmes"...all his female stars have their 'personal' songs...Though, as in "8 Femmes", some of their songs do move the story along and are character-revealing, and hence relevant.

Fortunately, there were Cotillard and Cruz who made it watchable...and worthwhile.

I'd rate it 4 /10
Eternality said…
Hi bengkooi,

Appreciated your arguments and your insights for NINE.

You are quite knowledgeable on cinema. Look forward to hearing from you again.


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