Monday, February 15, 2010

Nine ***

Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz
Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie, Sophia Loren

"Nine" is the third incarnation of a project that was born almost half a century ago at the hands of the brilliant Federico Fellini.
His film "8 ½" chronicled the anguish of a film director upon facing creative block. The movie is considered a masterpiece of world cinema and was transformed into a Broadway musical by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit which concentrated on the effect of women in the lives of the director.
Rob Marshall's adaptation then takes the musical back to the silver screen which perhaps it should never have left to begin with.
"8 ½" was always a very personal piece, it's been largely debated whether the main character was or wasn't an alter ego of Fellini himself. Sure the similarities were vast but to imply so would also be to diminish the auteur's ability to separate himself from the characters he write.
If that was the question should we say then that Mozart shouldn't have made music about music or Shakespeare written about writers?
If Fellini put something of his' in the movie it was his distinctive cinematic touch, he creates a surrealist, documentary-like circus out of unraveling minds and Guido is Fellini, not because he's a movie director but because he's his creation.
But out of this mess he comes up with a movie about ideas, a work of art that defies all conventions because it's a perfect ode to imperfection.
Therefore "Nine" always had a rough time ahead in becoming a beast of its own, for how do you adapt something that was already so undecipherable?
"Nine" had to be more chaotic and yet organized, it had to become an oxymoron and be both messy and grounded.
But Rob Marshall, always a visual perfectionist, chose to make a beautiful, almost too polished film that never really gets to the core of the creative crisis Guido Contini (Day-Lewis) is going through.
Instead he comes up with a film that proves another point almost by accident; that some ideas should remain forever where they were born.
When the film begins we meet Guido, perhaps the most famous director in the world who is about to start shooting a film called "Italia" but has yet to write a word for its screenplay.
He starts being haunted by the women who have inspired him throughout his life: his mother (Loren) who now is dead, a prostitute he met in his childhood called Saraghina (Fergie), his leading lady Claudia Jenssen (Kidman), his confidante and costume designer Lilli (Dench), American "Vogue" reporter Stephanie (Hudson), his mistress Carla (Cruz) and his wife-and former leading lady-Luisa (Cotillard).
The movie is structured so that each of these ladies gets a musical number (two in Cotillard's case) that goes along with what Guido is going through at that moment.
Therefore when we see him remember his repressive Catholic childhood Saraghina bursts out of the sand to remind him he was meant to be a lover in "Be Italian", while his mom soothes him with the melancholic lullaby "Guarda La Luna".
Marshall stages the numbers using the same framing device he used in "Chicago" as they unfold in a studio which looks like Cinecittá but is actually inside Guido's mind.
The numbers mostly feel completely disconnected from each other as Dench's "Folies Bergere" seems more at place in a revue than a movie about movies, while Hudson's "Cinema Italiano" (a song so tacky and overdone that you might blush when you actually find yourself humming it) would fit more in an MTV crash course through the 60's.
To some this might seem a misfire but considering the movie is basically us being voyeurs to Guido, they completely make sense.
In this way Carla's "A Call from the Vatican" shows him at his most playful and Cruz is so smoldering that she might even make you break a sweat as she coos throughout an orgasm. The numbers aren't really about these women, when they sing they are not themselves as much as they are projections of Guido.
That he also happens to be a projection of them just makes for a fascinating concept considering that like the film he's making, and to a degree "Nine" itself, he's essentially a work in progress.
Day-Lewis who obviously doesn't have the Italian gene, is unable to evoke charm and sexiness but he's an expert at brooding and inner exploration.
He sings with indifference as if he knows that because he's singing to himself he can give out so-so performances and still be the star of the show.
"I would like to be here/but also there" he sings completely aware that "that's a contradiction in terms" and the same can be said for the film which has trouble adjusting itself from the switch of musical into traditional scenes.
If there is something "Nine" gets really well is the casting; Dench is a sassy scene stealer, Loren really just needs to appear to evoke class glamor (she curiously represents the idea of women Guido attempts to encompass with the film he wants to make).
Fergie is a revelation as the sexual, larger than life Saraghina and Nicole Kidman shines in a role that seems to have been made for her. "People just don't realize she's an actress as well as a star" says Guido and Kidman proves him right in the affecting "Unusual Way" where she deconstructs the image of a movie star with the simple removal of a wig.
The movie perhaps belongs to Cruz and Cotillard. Cruz would've made Fellini proud as she takes on her role in the manner of someone like Magali Noël in "Amarcord", hips and lips everywhere but she's also able to break our heart when we least expect it.
Her undeniable sexiness is nothing compared to the longing in her eyes when she looks at Guido, her performance makes us look at her love as something beyond morality.
Then there's Cotillard who makes Luisa the center of the movie. In "My Husband Makes Movies" she shows us her life without recurring to cheap martyrdom; it's as if her devotion is what keeps her heart pumping. When she sings "he needs me so/and he'll be the last to know it" it doesn't come out as delusional but as self compromise.
But bets are off when Luisa finally unravels in the spine tingling "Take It All", which is cleverly edited between takes of her asking Guido to give her back her life and the musical performance where she strips for a strange crowd.
Watching Cotillard in that scene travel fearlessly from inner to outer nakedness is watching everything we would've wanted "Nine" to be.
But asking for so much would be to become Luisa and demand love and understanding from something that probably doesn't even understand itself.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I think you (unfortunately) hit the nail on the head when you say it (Fellini's original) should have never left the screen. I LOVE Nine, but it's a stage musical in every sense of the word and what Tolkin and Minghella try to do with the story is make it more cinematic, but at the end of the day the numbers are the numbers and it's difficult to make something "Folies Bergeres" mesh completely with something like "My Husband Makes Movies". Still (I've seen it three times now) I can't help loving it and the concept of it all is so irreverent and slightly brilliant that I can't NOT give it credit. But I can't write a review of it, I just can't. Your words are lovely though.

But I do find Daniel Day Lewis charming AND playful. Eg. I love that scene where he tells Claudia's agent he's sending her a copy of the script.

Dear God, this is a long ass comment

woodstock said...

i've seen nine for over 5 times now and you finally put into words what i've always felt about it. it's funny cos i can see you, through the end of the text, just saying "fuck it" to the strict logic of reviewing and relaxing to simply loving the film for its good parts. the problem with the dialogue/musical scenes was evident to me since the first screening, but fortunately i have this switch in me that when it's on i just care about the good and amusing stuff, and damn it, i love nine! i love exactly what you said is its triumph, the cast: fergie is a delicious revelation, and what you said about nicole's performance is what i tell people when they say her appearance is the weakest. i even love everything you disliked about "cinema italiano", especially the mtv feel of it. but yes, the stars are cruz and cotillard, and nowadays the latter is my favorite. i still think that pene's rope dancing is one of the sexiest things ever done in cinema, but right now, i'm just totally in love with marion cotillard's class and beauty. the cinematography in "my husband makes movies" just takes my breath away, along with - like you said - "her devotion is what keeps her heart pumping." anyways, critics may trash it, fellini diehard fans may curse it for "simplifying" "8 1/2", and finally the academy can ignore it, but screw it i found in nine exactly what lilli sings about "love, laughter and dreams," ask my ipod how many times i've listened to "cinema italiano" as i catwalked down paulista avenue!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Jose, did you hear the ridiculously crappy news? They're scrapping the performance of the original songs. So I won't even get to see my f****** Cotillard perform. It's like they're begging me not to watch. Aaaaaaaaaaargh.

Okay, end of rant. Sigh.

Jose said...

I appreciated the long comment Andrew, you make some great points and ugh man that thing about taking away the songs is pure terrorism!
You're right they're trying to boycott the experience of Oscar watching for everyone. Damn them!

Thanks ho! I sorta wanted your approval for this one hahaha. I do like "Cinema Italiano" in a guilty pleasure kind of way. It makes me want to dress up and ride a Vespa whenever I listen to it and I also have strutted down the streets to it hehe.