” This Holiday Season, Be Italian”
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz
Synopsis: Famous film director Guido Contini struggles to find harmony in his professional and personal lives, as he engages in dramatic relationships with his wife, his mistress, his muse, his agent, and his mother.
It’s the mid-1960s, and acclaimed Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis – Gangs of New York, There Will be Blood) is a troubled man. Everyone he meets tells him how much they love his movies – before adding the coda “especially the early ones.” Since those early successes, he’s helmed a string of flops which have dented both his confidence and ego, and is now in the midst of a mid-life crisis which threatens to develop into a full-blown nervous breakdown. His condition isn’t helped by the fact that he is yet to write the script for his comeback movie, filming of which is now imminent. His marriage to his former leading lady, Luisa (Marion Cotillard – The Dark Knight Rises, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) is also crumbling, due mostly to his philandering. Nevertheless, this doesn’t prevent Guido from rendezvousing on the set of his new movie with his needy mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz – Blow, The Counselor).
If the plot sounds familiar that’s because Nine is an adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1963 classic, 8½ – or, to be more accurate, of the hit Broadway musical based on Fellini’s movie. Director Rob Marshall, who also directed the hit musical movie Chicago, clearly wasn’t intimidated by Fellini’s reputation, but was almost universally savaged by the critics. On the evidence of this movie, the critical mauling the movie received was more to do with Marshall’s perceived impudence for daring to tinker with the work of a sacred cow like Fellini than with the quality of Nine. It’s odd, the way some critics – and moviegoers – are so possessive over their favourites. Fellini wasn’t pompous about his work, though, and was happy to sell the rights to 8½ on the condition that neither his name nor the film’s title was exploited.
The fact that I’ve never seen the Broadway musical or considered Fellini to have sat at the right hand of God hopefully affords me a more objective perspective than those who revere the director or the show. 8½ was Fellini’s highly personal, introspective analysis of the mess his own life was in at the time the film was made, and therefore has this surreal immediacy about it which Nine undeniably lacks. To draw comparisons between that movie and this one is an exercise in futility, like comparing a novelist to a voice artist.
There aren’t many catchy tunes in Nine, but then the songs aren’t intended to be showstoppers so much as a dramatic means through which Guido’s inner thoughts, fears and desires are expressed. Nevertheless, vibrant numbers like Be Italian and Take It All are capable of evoking powerful emotions, the second especially, as a raw, impassioned condemnation of Contini’s unthinking cruelty, is an unforgettable highlight. It’s performed by Cotillard, who provides the stand-out performance of a star-studded female supporting cast, each member of whom represents a clearly defined role in Contini’s life, and each of whom defines him in some way.
Daniel Day-Lewis, one of our generation’s finest method actors, does a remarkable job of exploring the inner demons that torment this insecure egocentric whose enviable lifestyle provides little emotional satisfaction. He unerringly finds the vulnerability in a character who could come across as calculated and self-centred if played imperfectly, and somehow manages to prevent Guido, who offers so little to the women from whom he demands so much, from coming across as a completely self-centred bastard. However, Marshall’s Guido never really seems incapable of love in the way that Fellini’s did, he merely seems confused and lost, which leaves the way open for Nine to fashion an unconvincingly happy ending (of sorts) which feels both rushed and inconsistent with all that has gone before.
(Reviewed 6th January 2016)