Friday, December 25, 2009

FILM REVIEW: Nine - The Musical

Guido Contini, the critically acclaimed director of provocateur, believes laying your script down on paper is tantamount to murder, and talking about it should get you the death penalty. He spends most of his time trying to avoid committing this crime, while repeating another one religiously. In fact, adultery, the act of briefly falling in love, is his religion—is his crime. He isn’t a murderer; he’s a lover.

Guido represents the untamed Italian man, raised by a doting and forgiving mother and cursed with the mandate to find a wife just like her. He's both spoiled by a childhood where he had the freedom to mess up, and haunted by the constant Catholic reminder of his carnal desires. He's tailor-made to be a cheater. At one point he admits that Italy is “a country run by men who are themselves run by women—whether they know it or not,” noting the source of all his anxiety. He depends on the ghost of his mother (Sophia Loren) for forgiveness and guidance, on his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard from Public Enemies) for support, on his leading lady/muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman) for inspiration, on his costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench) for the truth, and on his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz) for gratification. So it's to be expected that he falls apart when his wife leaves him, his suicidal mistress's husband takes her home, and his muse quits, refusing to perpetuate their chaste love affair.

Women don’t just rule him, they fuel him. The problem with Guido, both emotionally and professionally, is that he has trouble seeing what is right in front of him. His real muse was his wife, and the script that he couldn’t fathom quickly enough should’ve been about his life and the women who rule it. He subconsciously knew it from the beginning when he told the press he couldn’t answer their questions seriously, because he “thought [he] was the clown in this circus.” He was right. He’s the most entertaining character he’ll ever write about. He needed to explore not only the affect women have on him, but the affect he had on them. Claudia said that women were put on pedestals only to be knocked off for a kiss. They needed to sacrifice their self-respect in order to be loved. Luisa forfeited her career for love and Carla almost forfeited her life. In the end, after years of a self-imposed ban from filmmaking, he decided to write the story of how his only true love knocked him off his pedestal.

Nine turned out to be an unorthodox love story about a man discovering why he should keep making films and why he loved his wife, and whether it was too late to do anything about either. There was no cookie-cutter happy ending, just the truth. The performances were all amazing sights to witness, although you should be warned that a majority of them are very provocative. My favorite was actually during a memory sequence of Guido's Catholic school days when he and his friends paid what I'm assuming was a whore named Saraghina to provocatively dance for them on a beach near her shack. Pop star Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson sung her heart out. "Be Italian" is actually the only song I'd download off the soundtrack. The choreography and direction were fantastic. Listen:

However, Kate Hudson, as the Vogue writer Stephanie, really shocked me with both her dance skills and the range of her voice. The song, "Cinema Italiano," may have been lame, but she definitely made it worth listening to. I hope they make these perform at the Oscars. I'd like to see if they can do it live.

The best acting performance is split between two starlets. Penelope did a fantastic job during the first half of the film with her dimwitted, flirtatious, sultry character Carla. Her wounded animal, self-pitying sense of humor really lightened up the sorrow and anxiety that weighed down the film. The second half goes to Marion for Luisa's declaration of independence in freeing herself from Guido's shadow and reviving the person she once was. Her second song, "Take It All," was the last nail in the coffin of their relationship. Her sorrow and determination kept your eyes glued to the screen, and not just because she was stripping. With every layer, she ripped away a chain that he had wrapped around her with his insecurities and infidelity. She was a free woman.

You should definitely watch this film if you:
1) love musicals
2) love Love and/or
3) love Italy

1 comment:

  1. FINALLY...someone who actually gets this movie. This musical deserves to be included in any "Best of 2009" lists. Unfortunately, most Americans can't wrap their brains around a concept immersed in any culture other than our own. The entire film is a sparkling spinning calliope of sensation. Rock solid performances by an international cast are a mixture of reality and fantasy artfully spun into a Christmas Day confection for any movie lovers with a penchant for international flavor.