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    Nine Lives

    Lives in the unbalance

    "Nine Lives" gives nine glimpses into women's lives that are oddly resonant — whether because of, or in spite of, the film's crafty gimmicks and broken narratives.


    "Nine Lives" could easily have been nine movies.

    Written and directed by: Rodrigo García.
    Cast: Aomawa Baker, Kathy Baker, Andrew Borba, Amy Brenneman, K Callan, Elpidia Carrillo, Glenn Close, Stephen Dillane, Mary Pat Dowhy, Dakota Fanning, William Fichtner, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Jason Isaacs, Amy Lippens, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, Daniel Edward Mora, Pat Musick, Molly Parker, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Lawrence Pressman, Aidan Quinn, Chelsea Rendon, Miguel Sandoval, Amanda Seyfried, Sissy Spacek, Rebecca Tilney, Andy Umberger, Robin Wright Penn.
    Cinematography: Xavier Pérez Grobet.
    Edited by: Andrea Folprecht.

    Related links: Official site
    Rodrigo Garcia — maker of the very similar "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" (pithy IMDB user review: "The slowest movie I have seen in years and I loved it") — has put together another collage of vignettes out of women's lives.

    The vignettes have two quirks. First, each one is filmed in one unbroken take. (Oddly enough, it arrives in New York at the same time as a French festival film, "Through the Forest, which indulges in exactly the same gimmick.) The film gains almost nothing from this approach, and it doesn't lose much from it either. It's just a little extra challenge to the filmmaker.

    Nine Lives  
    Second, the characters start to overlap into one another's lives after a few segments. This is also fine but frequently irrelevant. It does sometimes deepen our appreciation of a character — for instance, the hard-bitten jail guard who also, as it turns out, has a complex home life. But the whole movie doesn't weave itself into a single tapestry — it just taps you on the shoulder from time to time and checks your powers of observation. Nice, but not essential.

    The essential question is the same as it is for any movie, with or without gimmicks — how good is it? Is it smart? Moving? Entertaining? And the answer, with "Nine Lives," is nine very qualified yesses. Every one of the vignettes has a certain sparkle that comes from the happy synchronicity of thoughtful writing, skillful performances and true emotions.

      Nine Lives
    But each one is a snapshot. These moments snatched from nine characters' lives are always incomplete, sometimes hinting at a fuller past and future but never telling more than a fragment of a story. A mother (Glenn Close) brings her daughter (Dakota Fanning) for a picnic at the grave site of a family member. A husband (Joe Mantegna) tries to soothe his wife (Kathy Baker), as she ranges through multiple emotions before cancer surgery. A daughter (Amanda Seyfried of "Mean Girls") intermediates between her wisecracking, wheelchair-bound father and her housewifey mother, who seem quite affectionate toward each other but also seem to avoid ever being in the same room. A husband (Stephen Dillane) and wife (Holly Hunter) cross several lines while attempting not to play out their messy relationship issues in front of friends, in an uncomfortably comical bit. Neither overplayed nor underplayed, these glimpses last long enough to give us a few jolts in our points of view, if not long enough to offer a more holistic understanding.

    Nine Lives  
    The nebulous context surrounding all of these snapshots could make nine fine movies rather than one — but those movies will never be made. There's a kind of safety in going only so far and no further — it's only one-ninth as difficult. If this were a stage production, it would be easy to see these stories for what they are — the classic one-act — but cinema has no equivalent form, and so these are neither fish nor filmic fowl. They are teasers forever.

    But unsettled doesn't have to mean unsatisfied. The movie — increasingly as it goes along — is pleasing in its incompleteness. It colors outside the lines. (Aidan Quinn, as an inappropriately amorous school counselor, even has a scene poking fun at the fakery of filmmaking, just so we know they know they're toying with us.) Some good comes of that — so much is obviously happening beyond the camera's awareness that the movie seems to have more spirit than its two hours of screen time is big enough to contain. One nice touch happens in several segments that end not with rest notes of closure but with dissonant notes of high tension. The first scene is actually cut off abruptly in mid-scream. Another ends with a gun being jabbed in one direction and then another, without telling us who finally ended up on the receiving end. It's unfortunate, maybe, that the movie is such a swirl of unresolution — but also tantalizing.

    OCTOBER 16, 2005

    Reader comments on Nine Lives:

  • Nine Live: Glenn Close/Dakota Fanning scene   from Mike Friel, Nov 6, 2005
  • nine lives needs less lives and more content   from Sandy Litvin, Nov 13, 2005
  • " one movie"   from B. Mozingo, Aug 11, 2006
  • ha   from jasmine w., Mar 5, 2007
  • glenn close scene   from carlos, Dec 2, 2007

  • Post a comment on "Nine Lives"