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ICYMI: Nine Lives (2005)


As a lifelong lover of literature, there has always been one format that attracts me more than others: the short story. I find true joy and wonderment in any author that can captivate an audience and tell an engrossing tale with complex characters in anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Be it Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekov, or Shirley Jackson to more modern authors like Stephen King, Jennifer Egan and Sarah Hall, I delight in the artistry and craft in engaging an audience quickly and allow them the ability to linger on what might happen next.

It should then be no surprise that some of my favorite films have an anthology feel, that is large casts of actors and actresses spread out over cinematic tapestries in interconnected tales that echo of literary gravitas. Some of the more famous of these types of films include the work of directors Robert Altman (Short Cuts, Nashville, A Prairie Home Companion) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) as well as horror anthologies like 1982’s Creepshow and 1985’s Cat’s Eye.

So, for the next few weeks I will take this opportunity to highlight other “anthology” films worthy of note. Films that, like my favorite short stories, are able to tell riveting narratives that can be enjoyed in small bites but become more nourishing when woven into larger filmic fabrics.

2005’s Nine Lives has the feel of a short story anthology brought to life via movie in more than one way. First, it’s a series of nine short films that together tell modern stories of women at emotional crossroads, with some characters co-existing in multiple stories. Second, the film was written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of legendary Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Rodrigo Garcia is a gifted artist in his own right who specializes in using film to create his own literary-inspired story telling. His other films of note are 2000’s Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her and 2010’s Mother and Child. But Nine Lives is his masterpiece in terms of style, writing, and mood as well as the endless number of powerful performances he captures in just under two hours.

The star-studded cast includes Robin Wright, Holly Hunter, Glenn Close, Kathy Baker, Sissy Spacek, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Amy Brenneman, Mary Kay Place as well as budding stars at time in Amanda Seyfried and Dakota Fanning. We also get just enough of the male perspective represented by Aidan Quinn, Jason Isaacs, William Fichtner, Stephen Dillane, Joe Mantegna and Ian McShane. Somehow, filmmaker Garcia is able to balance all of this talent into nine finely tuned stories that resonate with heart, regret, passion, and resolve.

Each film is approximately 10 -12 minutes in length and are filmed in one single shot. Garcia is able to pull each of these segments off effortlessly without ever feeling like a gimmick or that the audience is getting shortchanged. I could go on forever about each individual film, which is titled after each female lead character, but I would like to save as much of the discovery to you, the potential viewer, as possible. And yet, I should provide a few quick hits, as it were:

Robin Wright – the 2nd segment, and the most written about, finds a pregnant woman in a chance meeting with a former lover. The scene aches with “What Might Have Been” and “What Still Could Be.” By the end, you may feel utter anguish at what you’ve have witnessed and the fact that Ms. Wright has never been nominated for an Oscar.

Lisa Gay Hamilton – in a segment headed towards tragedy we watch a woman build up the courage to confront her abusive stepfather. Ms. Hamilton (best known for TV’s The Practice) unravels and strengthens right before our eyes in a segment that is somehow both hard to watch and hard to look away.

Kathy Baker – there may be no more anxiety-inducing situation than awaiting surgery and Ms. Baker and Mr. Mantegna capture the perfect tenor of a couple built to weather any storm. Watching their playful bickering is one of the few “joys” of a film full of drama and despair. It’s a surprising window of hope in a film that lives for ambivalence and uncertainty.

Glenn Close – the final segment starts innocently enough with Ms. Close taking her young daughter for a picnic. But as the gears turn, the viewer realizes there’s more than meets the eye. Garcia’s final camera pan brings the film full circle to an image of suffering and heartbreak. Hope I haven’t given TOO much away.

My wife often wonders why I gravitate towards this “dark stuff.” Films like Nine Lives are, to me, the dramatic equivalent of a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, turns and surprises and you just might approach sensory overload by the ride’s end. Watching powerful films like this, with all of its angst, misery and somberness, make me feel strangely alive. I become mesmerized in this type of kaleidoscope of characters and find strength in their portrayals of pain and acceptance. When the day comes that movies like Nine Lives don’t affect me, then and only then will I know I am truly dying.

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