Nine Lives

Nine Lives

USA, 2005. Rated R. 114 minutes.

Cast: Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek, Holly Hunter, Robin Wright Penn, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Amanda Seyfried, Elpidia Carrillo. Also starring Stephen Dillane, Dakota Fanning, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Aidan Quinn, and Miguel Sandoval.
Writer: Rodrigo García
Original Music: Edward Shearmur
Cinematography: Xavier Pérez Grobet
Producer: Julie Lynn
Director: Rodrigo García


Grade: B+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Nine vignettes. Nine segments. Nine women. Nine walks of life. Nine outstanding actresses. Nine obsessions. Nine stories. Nine camera shots. Nine Lives.

Okay, I sound like an advertisement. How else to describe this film, though? In nine short vignettes, writer/director Rodrigo García opens nine brief windows into the lives of nine women trapped in their relationships, imprisoned by cages of their own construction. It is, in a way, a film about the difficulty—perhaps even the impossibility—of letting go.

The film's first segment takes place, appropriately enough, in a jail. Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo) is trying hard to get time off for good behavior so she can be reunited with her daughter, but the need to see her on visiting day triggers her temper and sabotages her efforts. Another filmmaker might have closed with this segment instead of opening with it, thus building to the metaphor of the prison. This would have been a far less subtle artistic choice. Placing this segment at the start, when you still don't know what the film is about, makes the metaphor less obvious.

Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright-Penn
Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright-Penn star in Nine Lives.

The second segment is a virtuoso work of cinematography. One of the conceits of the film is that each segment consist of a single continuous Steadicam shot. No cuts. In this segment, the very pregnant Diana (Robin Wright Penn, who is too skinny for the pillow she's wearing), bumps into old flame Damian (Jason Isaacs) in a grocery story. Though both are now married to other people, they are within the space of a few minutes helplessly regressing to old emotions, and their unresolved issues re-emerge. How director of photography Xavier Pérez Grobet manages to choreograph their awkward dance through the store, with all its twists and turns, and capturing every significant glance from three aisles away, is an amazing artistic achievement.

In the disturbing third segment, Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) returns to her childhood home to confront her stepfather (Miguel Sandoval) about the pain he caused her, and finds her much younger sister (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) there instead. It's taken a long time for Holly to work up the courage for this, and her resolve may be shaky. “If every memory was a bad one, how great that would be,” she exclaims in despair. The segment stops just short of its resolution, which could be a violent one. Nine Lives isn't about closure though. It's about how some things are never fully resolved, even when they appear to be.

Segment four finds Sonia (Holly Hunter) and Martin (Stephen Dillane) playing a call on Damian and his wife Lisa (Molly Parker). Sonia and Martin resent the other couple's money and seeming happiness and end up airing their dirty laundry in front of them. In segment five, teenaged Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is giving up on her own future to care for her disabled father, and doesn't seem to mind. The glue of the household, she ping-pongs back and forth between parents whose relationship with one another has withered away.

The fairly twisted sixth segment follows Lorna (Amy Brenneman) as she ill-advisedly attends the funeral of her ex-boyfriend's wife, and finds herself pulled back into his orbit. In the seventh, Samantha's mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek) attempts a motel-room rendezvous with Henry (Aidan Quinn). The eighth segment portrays Camille (Kathy Baker), a woman facing a mastectomy who is frustrated by her body's deterioration, and the efforts of her husband Richard (Joe Mantegna) to comfort her. Finally the haunting ninth segment, which depicts Maggie (Glenn Close) and her daughter Maria (Dakota Fanning) having a picnic in a cemetery, provides an ending that lingers long after the film is over.

With such character-focused scenes each captured in a single continuous shot, Nine Lives does contains a few tedious acting-school-exercise moments. Yet the accumulated power of the vignettes packs a wallop. Or perhaps “wallop” is too strong a word. Nine Lives is a deeply thoughtful film whose deep thoughtfulness doesn't become apparent until the whole thing has sunk in. It's as if García has somehow seen into women's souls, and written nine truthful vignettes about unsatisfied desire. Responsibilities, regrets, and fear of an even greater emptiness are what cause these nine women to hold onto the dissatisfying relationships that confine them, begetting yet more unhappiness, longing, and yearning.

Review © September 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Magnolia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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