I wonder why so little love was given to this film, given its bad critical reception toward what I felt was an enjoyable musical with filmmaking as a backdrop, based on the Broadway equivalent which was in turn inspired by the story of Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical film 8 ½. Adapted for the screen by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, Nine the film version is lavishly produced with a mix of film and stage elements thrown in to straddle the thin line between reality, fantasy and memory in which the protagonist, fictional Italian filmmaking maestro Guido Cortini (Daniel Day-Lewis) experiences at the cusp of his next film production.
Only that the problem is the film was announced, the anticipation is high, the cast has been selected, the crew assembled, but there's no script and no story. Try as he might to explain or not explain himself, you know that he's throwing up a lot of smoke and mirrors, lying, side-skirting, and telling everyone that explanation of even the plot of his next movie Italia will kill the essence of the film. Which to me is what I think of all pretentious filmmakers in the first place, that they do not have anything but a vague idea in their head, and they try really hard to produce some semblance of meaning that they do not comprehend in the first place, but leave it to others to extract something out of it. It still amazes me how they continue to receive funding for their next movie, and how stars continue to flock to want to be in their films,
But for Guido the pressure is now on him to deliver since his last two films had flopped, and is running out of excuses and things to say in his next film. So we meet him now at this crossroads, and observe how he grapples with his professional troubles when he pours out to his confidante, his costumer Lilli, played by Judi Dench whom I thought had some of the best lines in the film about directing, and how he fumbles time and again with his personal relationships with all the women in his life, which we see in both the narrative as well as various song and dance sequences.
Which was where most of the fun of Nine was buried under. For the seven women of his life – Lilli as mentioned, estranged wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), mistress and actress Carla (Penelope Cruz), Saraghina (Fergie), mother (Sophia Loren), reporter Stephanie (Kate Hudson) and his actress-muse-international star Claudia (Nicole Kidman), each were dedicated a number in which we learn an episode of Guido's life from the past and present, which will shape the course of his immediate future. And given Rob Marshall's experience with musical adaptations on film, he does his best with these segments, each bringing out the personality of the women, and adding plenty of colour through lavish costumes and set designs.
Daniel Day-Lewis continues to impress, no less of course, with his Italian faux-pas accent, as do the rest of the cast who play the various Italian characters here, and how he handles his character's tremendous weight that comes crashing down upon him, having to continuously run away from his problems, only to compound issues, especially when he's trying to reconcile with his wife. Marion Cotillard hasn't impressed me much since her La Vie En Rose, and here she more than makes up for it with a powerful performance as the neglected wife still holding onto a sliver of hope to make up with Guido, only to find disappointment each time when she thought they could be on to something.
Some of the actresses had really bit roles, like Fergie though she had an extended song sequence to perform in, Penelope Cruz as usual looked extremely sultry as the tragic mistress (with a dirty killer line!) and Nicole Kidman was just plain luminous in her role here (with a Bardot quality) that it's hard to imagine she did this role just 4 weeks after delivery. Then there's Kate Hudson's sassy performance in her number Cinema Italiano, which has become my personal favourite amongst all the songs here, with Marion Cotillard's My Husband Makes Movies coming a close second. Hmm, I guess I hate to admit that one of the chief reasons I take to the film, is because of the excellent eye candy which was actually the icing on the cake.
Oh yeah and stay tuned when the end credits start to roll, because you can get a sneak peek into what went on behind the scenes during rehearsals for the song-dance sequences. I say again, Cinema Italiano rocks!