Sunday, 17 January 2010


Now Showing
Sony Pictures

According to Roger Ebert, if you've seen Fellini's 8 ½ then you're less inclined to like Nine, the film version of the Broadway musical inspired by that classic Italian film. And Ebert may have a point: I've not seen 8 ½ (for shame) and I enjoyed Rob Marshall's film a lot.

Daniel Day Lewis is Guido, a film director much admired around the world and in his native Italy, where the story takes place. But you're only as good as your last film, as fans and colleagues keep reminding him: “I like you're earlier films, the flops not so much” tends to be the general consensus. Guido is feeling the pressure and despite producers and crew ready to roll on his latest project, the ambitiously titled Italia, there is no script, nor even a story for that matter.

But a film, even a musical, about writer's block doesn't sound all that appealing and that's why trailers for the film tend to focus on the star-studded cast; a bevy of Hollywood beauties who represent the significant women, past and present, in Guido's life: mother (Sophia Loren), muse (Nicole Kidman), prostitute (Fergie), journalist (Kate Hudson), confidant (Judi Dench), mistress (Penelope Cruz) and wife (Marion Cotillard).

The best of these are the latter three. Dench, as Guido's long-time costume designer, effortlessly steals every scene she's in and her musical number, Folies Bergere, is a blast. Cruz, who has been on a creative roll of late, is Guido's temperamental mistress who smoulders and sulks in equal measure; Cruz has been garnering most of the awards attention for the film. But it is Cotillard who is the real star of Nine. A Best Actress Oscar winner for La Vie En Rose (2007), she perfectly captures the wounded heart but resilient spirit of Guido's long-suffering wife, Luisa, who gave up her acting career to support her husband. Cotillard's first number, My Husband Makes Movies, is, for me, the film's highlight.

And what of Day Lewis? Singing isn't a talent one would readily associate with this superlative actor, certainly not after the gravelly tones employed in There Will Be Blood, but he equips himself well as you'd expect. Interesting to note that Javier Bardem was originally cast as Guido but dropped out due to exhaustion. I'm assuming that was at the tail end of his No Country For Old Men trophy collection tour of 2007-2008 and not as a result of the physical demands of this film, for there is little if any dancing required of Guido.

Neither the critics or the box office in the US have been kind to Nine. Perhaps they were expecting another Chicago, Marshall's Oscar-winning musical of 2002. And granted, Nine is neither as fun nor as cynical as that razzle dazzler. But it's by no means a dud. The film looks great, thanks to Australian cinematographer, Dion Beebe, and costume designer, Colleen Atwood, both of whom worked on Chicago and Marhsall's follow-up Memoirs of a Geisha. And you're bound to have your favourites among the actresses and the songs, some better performed and more catchy than others.

And who knows, Nine may inspire a spike in DVD sales of 8 ½ and other Fellini films. Cinema Italiano indeed. I for one have added it to my ever-expanding list of classic films I should have seen but haven't.

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