The Herald: March 2010

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Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Stacy Ferguson, Marion Cotillard

The experience of watching ‘Nine’ is akin to seeing an ice-skater take a tumble. A veritable who’s-who of Hollywood – Daniel Day Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Kate Hudson – come together for this baffling adaptation of a Tony award-winning 1982 Broadway musical which in turn took its inspiration from Fellini’s 1963 film ‘8 ½’. The film is a consideration of the torment of writer’s block, telling the story of Guido Contini (Day Lewis), a celebrated Italian filmmaker who is on the verge of producing his next masterpiece (with the very grandiose title of ‘Italia’). Unfortunately Contini is unable to summon up the creative forces that have served him in the past. His impatient producer and financier, sympathetic costume-designer and long-time friend (Judi Dench) and muse (Nicole Kidman) fight each other for a copy of the script, which has yet to be written. As Contini escapes from Rome and an empty soundstage, he is followed by the entire production team, his wife (Cotillard), mistress (Cruz) and a Vogue reporter (Hudson) eager to introduce the women of America to Contini and his fabled Casanova-like reputation.

Daniel Day Lewis finds himself in the shoes of a man who idolizes women, makes stars of them as performers, but also uses them in ways that leave them pained or damaged (his mistress, for example, tries to commit suicide when Contini ends their relationship). The audience comes to sympathise with this very spoiled and privileged womaniser largely due to Day Lewis’ careful treatment of the role.

The film is peppered with musical numbers that serve as a Greek chorus to a narrative about Contini’s reflections on the women he has known and his waning creative spark. Where Chicago’s (director Rob Marshall’s previous foray into musicals) brash song-and-dance numbers perfectly fit its story-line, Nine struggles to find a harmonious middle ground between its music and subject matter. The song ‘Cinema Italiano’ sung by Kate Hudson, for example, with lines such as “I love the black and white/ I love the play of light/ the way Contini puts his image through a prism/ I feel my body chill/Gives me a special thrill/Each time I see that Guido neo realism”, are trite and embarrassing to watch. Only Sophia Loren and Nicole Kidman escape song-writer Maury Yeston’s treatment – Penelope Cruz finds herself swinging on a trapeze singing a bawdy number with lines such as ‘Cootchie, cootchie, cootchie coo, I’ve got a plan for what I’m gonna do to you’. Marion Cotillard is remarkable as Contini’s wife, who struggles with his many infidelities in the name of his creative genius. Fergie (one of the lead singers from The Black Eyed Peas) also shines as a prostitute from Guido’s youth – her energetic and dramatic rendering of ‘Be Italian’ is a surprising departure from how audiences have come to view her.

Despite its shortcomings, the film is an interesting exploration of the beauty, culture and hedonism of Rome in the 1960s. It is a playful wink at the film industry and show business, befittingly written by Anthony Minghella. At its heart, it is the story of a man who comes to realize that ‘Italia’ for him is epitomized by the many beautiful women he has come to meet throughout his life.