Sunday, March 15, 2009

Nine Lives (movie review)

Here is one of those gems where it pays to watch the Special Features and listen to the writer-director Rodrigo Garcia, producer, actors.

The Nine Lives themselves focus on nine women, their names starting each featurette as the curtain rises. I'm a Sissy Spacek fan, so was led in to this rotating sequence of exhibits by her name on the marquee, to discover many marvels, in terms of capable, strong, intelligent performances. I liked seeing the sheriff from Invasion again, now deaf, yet still attracted to this squid of a woman (gorgeous and well played by actress Amy Brenneman with just the right distance).

The girl Samantha trapped between two parents who always say the same things was especially claustrophobic. As a casual drop-in, one has the luxury of knowing it'll be over soon, not so for the imprisoned. Nonhumans didn't have much of a role in any of these scenes, in itself a source of claustrophobia for me. Like where are the horses, the snakes?

So yeah, the writer is skilled at coming up with these puzzles (seemingly insoluble). The mom behind bars, wanting to talk with her daughter (but the phone was broken) was especially poignant as well. The woman about to have surgery, lashing out at the guy... Sissy got to be in two of the sketches. The meeting in the supermarket (two people pushing carts) took me back to a scene in George Tenet's stormy book, although neither character was pregnant in his version (a similar "pattern language" though).

As I remarked during the viewing (not too loudly I hope), this was all very theatrical in flavor, didn't feel like "a normal movie" and the reason is obvious: each vignette, though rehearsed, is shot as a mini-play, a sustained 14 -17 minute take (mas o meno). You can be 10 minutes into a perfect performance and flub somehow, have to start again.

Standard procedure is to edit together all the best bits, but in theater one doesn't have that luxury, and as the producer reminds us, this very low budget effort had only nine shooting days to get it right, 17 total, basically two days per ordeal. I say "ordeal" because it's really challenging to dive in to a script like this, with steadicams dancing around, but on the other hand it's the kind of work thespians really enjoy, as you get to live the character and scene, aren't tasked with the exhausting chore of "chopping it up" into 5-30 second takes so much.

Thanks for putting on great skits and inviting us back stage after the performance. You're wonderfully skilled people. Thanks for adding this to the stacks.