Nine Lives
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2005
The film, which is written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia ("Things You Can Tell By Looking At Her"), is a compilation of sympathetic vignettes centering on the lives of nine dissimilar women. Each abbreviated episode (10 to 12 minutes) has been staged as a continuous Steadicam shot and focuses in on one particular woman. Each woman's episode in the film is self-sustaining, although the occasional character can overlap into another woman's storyline - sometimes overlapping at the corners and sometimes as a more fully developed presence.

Sandra (Edpidia Carrillo) is a hard luck prison inmate at a woman's correctional facility awaiting a visit from her daughter. A very pregnant Diana (Robin Wright Penn) has a bittersweet and poignant chance encounter with an ex-lover, Damian (Jason Isaacs), while late night grocery shopping. Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) spirals out of control upon returning to her childhood home after a long absence. Lorna (Amy Brenneman) finds both a chilly and an unforeseen reception while attending the funeral of her ex-husband's (William Fichtner) second wife. Sonia (Holly Hunter) and her boyfriend, Martin (Stephen Dillane), have a bitter and inappropriate argument while visiting another couple in their new apartment. Ruth (Sissy Spacek) contemplates having an adulterous affair with Henry (Aidan Quinn). My favorite storyline is that of a hospital patient, Camilla (Kathy Baker), and her husband, Richard (Joe Mantegna). Awaiting a preoperative visit from her surgeon, Camilla is anxious and angry, lashing out at everyone, but especially Richard. Poor Richard (who wants to be supportive and comfort his wife) cannot seem to say anything right. It is only after receiving a sedative injection that Camilla finally becomes calm, allowing Richard to safely approach her, and permitting the audience to see the tenderness which is at the core of their relationship.

It is quite apparent that director Rodrigo Garcia genuinely likes women and accepts them despite their flaws and imperfections. Each woman's storyline (with one exception) feels authentic, as if the audience had just intruded on a particular woman's life, leaving you to draw your own conclusions and fill in any back-story.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
What this film IS: A thoughtful exploration of individual moments in the lives of many different women, all of them facing some crisis or difficulty. It is also the closest thing to a short story collection I've seen on film - if the short stories cut straight to the climax of each story (read on, you'll understand what I mean).

What this film is NOT: A suspense or escape thriller with all the answers handed to the viewer at the conclusion. This isn't a "feel good" flick, although there are parts which are touching and warm. It is intense and if you don't pay attention, you'll miss subtle but crucial moments.

I was stuck by the amazing complexity in the lives of each of these women (and their men as well) and by the rather audacious decison by the director to leave lots of questions unanswered, allowing the viewer to imagine what happens next to each character, to fill in the spaces...or just to keep wondering about the whys and wherefores.

You see each women at a major moment in her life but you don't really know the entire backstory, nor do you know what will happen next. A pregnant woman meets her old boyfriend in a grocery store and the moment sets off a shockwave of emotion. Another woman confronts her stepfather, gun in hand, but...why? Was there sexual abuse? Or something else that has left her so angry, unhinged and desperate? A young girl seems to be managing to keep peace in her home, to look after her disabled father and to keep her parents together - or is she? Sometimes one woman will show up in another woman's episode, so that there is some overlap and you get a chance to see another side of a person's character.

If you don't like loose ends, I'd suggest you stay away from this film. But I loved it, love the acknowledgment that sometimes there are crucial moments that may be AS important - or MORE important- than the moments that came before or since. Pivotal moments. And does it really matter what happens next? To see more might actually make the crucial moment less intense, less meaningful.

An extremely creative, daring, magical film!

IF YOU GET THE DVD: There are some very nice special features in the DVD, including interviews with the actresses who give THEIR interpretation of the characters they play. This led to some new insights as I listened to them speak about what they thought of their characters and what motivated them. There are other "behind the scenes" moments which show how certain parts of the film were set up and shot.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
What a great, stunning, emotional movie! These nine vignettes, each about 12 minutes long, feature very different women from all walks of life, each of them who could be said is stuck in some kind of emotional rut - some more deep than others, some of which they have control of and some they don't. We start out with Sandra in LA County Jail who is trying her best but whose emotions are right at the surface and a seemingly minor incident spells disaster for her. Then Diana played exquisitely by the fabulous Robin Wright Penn who runs into her old love, Damian, in the supermarket years after their relationship has ended; the one gesture by Damian just broke my heart. Other standouts include Sissy Spacek as the wife of a disabled man (Deadwood's Ian McShane) who shows up in two of the vignettes and Amy Brenneman as he ex-wife of a man whose wife has just committed suicide. All the stories are so vivid, so intense that I am glad I saw it on DVD instead of in a theater as I found I was forced to take a break in the middle. There were several that moved me to tears. This is really great film making and absolutely highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
One often hears the term "slice of life" used to describe a movie. Well this film takes that life-slicing knife and cuts a little more finely, segmenting and serving up nine vital, loosely-connected snippets from nine different lives. It's like a slower paced, less jarring and more contemplative version of Richard Linklater's "Slacker" - character- and idea-driven (almost to a fault) and unconcerned with the conventions of plot, traditional narrative or even recurring characters (although Nine Lives has a few, but you have to be alert to recognize and recall all of them).

If you feel, as I do, that movies too often tie up all the loose ends before the credits roll (which really hardly ever happens in life), then this here is the film for you! Each snippet is unapologetically unresolved, and I give the filmmakers enormous credit for not giving in to the tried (trite) and true Hollywood formula of gift-wrapped resolutions. The acting is almost uniformly outstanding, and the choreography of the camerawork is breathtaking to behold.

The only aspect of the film that I found lacking was the writing - although poetic and profound in places, sometimes it's also bludgeoning you over the head with what I call "the anvil of exposition", as several lines speak a little too obviously and ham-handedly in trying to bang home the central theme of the movie. "We are linked to everything and everyone on this little planet," one character says, and I have to fight the urge to shout back at the screen that old Creative Writing 101 chestnut: "Show - don't tell!"

Aside from that, don't be surprised if you find yourself not completely resonating with one or two of these vignettes (and I would imagine which ones in particular would vary from viewer to viewer), but ultimately this film hits a lot more than it misses. And even if only seven of these snippets connect with you (as was the case with me), that's still seven out of nine, which in my math-challenged world equals four stars.

And speaking of math... though Amazon lists the running time for this film as 82 minutes, it's actually 112 minutes. The DVD also features an excellent 73 min Q&A at the Strasberg Theater and Film Institute (which is quite an appropriate setting, seeing how this movie has such a combination of both stage and screen elements) feautring Rodrigo Garcia, Amy Brenneman, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Kathy Baker, and Joe Mantegna. It's kind of like a low-budget (but rich in substance) version of "Inside the Actor's Studio." Don't miss Joe Mantegna's story near the end about the "perfume error" - it's very funny.

The DVD also contains 4 Featurettes: "The Women of Nine Lives" is a series of very short interviews (7 minutes in all) with writer/director Rodrigo Garcia and six of the actresses describing their roles. "Sonia: Blocking A Scene" is an interesting split-screen presentation following (on the left side of the screen) the DP and director walking their way through and figuring out how to shoot a tough exterior-to-interior scene while the actual finished scene itself plays on the right.

"Working With One Continuous Take" and "Maggie: A Day at the Cemetery" are my favorite of the featurettes, exploring more fully the technical aspects of shooting these challenging scenes. It's amusing to see the small army of crew members shadowing Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning in the cemetery as they try not to fall victim to its treacherous footing. It's no wonder they had to get a second steadycam operator for the shoot, seeing as the camera itself weighs 85 pounds and they would do more than ten complete motion-filled takes over the course of five or so hours on any given day of shooting. Hats off (and much respect) to the tech crew!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2006
Rodrigo Garcia`s "Nine Lives" raises the question of just how emotionally invested a viewer can become in a character who appears on screen for no more than ten or a dozen minutes throughout the course of a movie. And what happens if ALL the main characters show up for that little a time? For this is the case with "Nine Lives," a compilation of vignettes about nine virtually unconnected ladies, each of whom is struggling with issues common to women in a modern world. Some are coping with messy relationships, others with regrets about past actions, still others with health issues and the looming possibility of death. Even though the stories abut slightly on one another from time to time, each exists essentially as a stand-alone sketch able to function without the others.

The main problem with a movie like "Nine Lives" is that, for all the insights it offers into life and human relationships (and they are many), it simply can't develop its characters to any appreciable extent in the time it has allotted them. Just as we are becoming engaged by a particular woman and her situation, the movie shuts us down by cutting away to the next segment. This is really no criticism of the movie per se - which is a well written, well acted and well directed piece of lyrical filmmaking - but the structure dilutes our interest and robs the film of the cumulative force it might have had were the individual stories fleshed out to feature length.

Still, given the limitations, this is a film filled with flavorful moments and fine performances from a large and gifted cast that includes Sissy Spacek, Mary Kay Place, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, Holly Hunter, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Robin Wright Penn, Joe Mantegna and Aiden Quinn, among many others. And the final moments are so tender, poignant and touching that they carry the film to a level where it transcends artifice and makes a genuine human connection with its audience. Thus, despite the reservations one might have about the film as a whole, the parts are more than compelling enough to make it well worth watching.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Columbian director and writer Rodrigo García (Things you can tell just by looking at her, multiple episodes of Six Feet Under, Carnivale, The Sopranos, Fathers and Sons, etc) does what few writer/directors are capable of: García observes the human condition, finds the stories that such observations suggests, fleshes out these ideas into vignettes, and then weaves them into a tapestry of a film that is simply breathtaking.

NINE LIVES is simply the reporting of nine women and their surrounding characters who are coping with an emotional crisis involving relationships with a parent, child, lover, husband, or sister and the manner in which each woman deals with keeping her life intact despite the trials of everyday living. Imagine walking down a street, as a flaneur, observing glimpses of a person and conversation that lasts only as long as the time you approach, pause and pass on by and you have an idea of the technique García uses. These little short stories are the stuff of life we all encounter: García pauses long enough to let them make an impact.

Part of the beauty of this film is the sterling cast which includes some of our finest actors - Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, K Callan, Glenn Close, Stephen Dillane, Dakota Fanning, Holly Hunter, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, Mary Kay Place, Aidan Quinn, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn - the list goes on. There is a sense of ensemble commitment to this film despite that only occasionally do the characters overlap. The writing is terse, understated, always saying just enough to arrest our attention before moving on, much the way life keeps passing. A very fine work, and one that reminds us that great movies from quiet stories come. Grady Harp, February 06
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2008
Need the sins of the father be visited upon the son? Not if the terrific- nay, great, little 2005 film, Nine Lives, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, is Exhibit A. Garcia is the son of famed Nobel Prize winning magical realist fictionist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of Love In A Time Of Cholera and One Hundred Years Of Solitude fame. Yet, despite that fame, the father's work, in novels and short fictions, is usually baroque and anomic in narrative, and hollow and superficial in characterization. In this film, his son, however, shows how quickly and deftly a whole life can be sketched and distilled- if not contained, in just ten to twelve real time minutes, doing something his father never did- create complex and compelling characters and situations. He has a human touch in his art that his father has always lacked with his magical realism.
This hour and fifty-two minute film is, in short, antithetical to everything Garcia's father's art stands for. And, as a filmgoer, you should be very thankful for that! I'd never heard of this director, but heard good things about this film. However, I never take such recommendations too seriously, because for every great film like this I am told I need to see pretentious trash, like Crash, this past year's Oscar winner, an ensemble film that only wishes it could have a fraction of the hyper-realism this film does. Prior to this film, Garcia had directed commercials, some television episodes, including The Sopranos, and two prior low budget films- 2001's Ten Tiny Love Stories, and 2000's Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her.
The film that this most reminded me of was Jill Sprecher's great 2001 film, 13 Conversations About One Thing, save that that film wove all its character's plights into a single loose thread, while this film is simply nine short films with a few crossover characters. Jim Jarmusch's recent compilation film of related short subjects, Coffee And Cigarettes, also mines this territory and style, but with nowhere near the success of Nine Lives. Of the nine segments, all named after the lead female character within, for Garcia seems to have a reputation as a woman's filmmaker, seven are brilliant or great, and the two weaker pieces are still good, solid films that experiment with the medium. However, any short story collection that was published, with seven of its nine tales being great would become a classic.... Other films, like Magnolia and Grand Canyon, try this overlapping technique, but they all tie things up at the end, often with all the characters meeting. These films are merely moments that will be big memories in the minds of each of the protagonists, in years to come. The backstories are implied so well, subtly and quickly, that it's not at all difficult to get into each scene within minutes of their starting. Yet, to know everything in those backstories would beg triteness and lengthen the film so that only two, perhaps three, of the stories, could still fit within.
Garcia shows great command of his medium with his objective Chekhovian writing and zero endings, for what could have easily become a New Agey or Chick Flick piece of schlock. Unlike such films as Time Code, this experiment in filmic narrative works, and is a worthy descendant of the filmic experiments that Ingmar Bergman pioneered in the 1960s. It should have been one of the films nominated for an Oscar, along with other underappreciated films like The New World, Match Point, and Shopgirl. But, Hollywood keeps on churning out schlock like Brokeback Mountain and Crash instead, while films like this are shunted aside. Fight back, watch this film, talk about it with others, and make sure that the powerbrokers know that there is a market for such films. It's the only way there will be more of them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2007
I was eager to like this experimental film written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia (son of the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez), but in the end was disappointed. Garcia tells the stories of nine women, each one as a separate and independent 10-12 minute snap shot. Except for pain and dysfunctions of all sorts that relate directly to the men in their lives, the nine stories are unrelated. We encounter teenage and elderly women, blue collar and professionals, black, Hispanic and white. Diana is divorced from her husband but they should have stayed together. Sonia is badly married and should divorce. Holly confronts her abusive step-father and maybe commits suicide. Samantha referees between her distant parents. Ruth considers an affair, Camillie confronts breast cancer surgery, and as an inmate Sandra is separated from her daughter. The artistic signature of this film is that Garcia shoots each of the nine vignettes in a single, uninterrupted 10-12 minute shot with a hand-held camera, and that the crises these women face remain unresolved.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2006
Nine slice-of-life vignettes shot in real time, with top-notch actors and dialogue, in all-too-real and stunningly unvarnished situations/emotions/moments. Yes it's centered around 9 women who are (very) loosely connected, but this is not the kind of glib sentimental schmaltz of a bad chick-flick, it really grabs you and does not let go. Most refreshingly of all, there is no neat little sermon or cliche-fest at the end to tie everything together...it's left as open-ended, unknowable and ungraspable as it should be, because that's just how life is, get over it already!

I immediately went back and watched several of the vignettes again after my first viewing...that's how much depth and power this film has. Definitely worth owning.

Have to agree with one of the other reviewers, this is the kind of film-making that restores one's faith in the medium after one too many Hollywood crapfests like "War of the Worlds."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2006
I had highs hopes for this movie, and a couple of the viginettes I loved. The 10 minutes with Robin Wright-Penn....now that was worth renting this movie. She portrayed a place perhaps a lot of women have been...going on with your life and *bam* you see an old love and it's all turned inside out and it is like no more than 5 minutes have passed since your old life.

I also loved the last 10 minutes with Glenn Close. Very sad and profound. I cried.

The other ones were only from ok...to so-so to a couple pointless.

You will enjoy it more or less...
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