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Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009

Nine

All-star cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman

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Shortly before his death, director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) delivered the screenplay for Nine, the film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical. The project was finally brought to the screen by director Rob Marshall, whose Oscar-winning Chicago was the most successful screen musical of recent years.

The movie expands upon the Broadway show, transforming it cinematically—and rightly so, given the topic. Nine concerns a mid-1960s Italian director, a thinly disguised Federico Fellini, called Guido Contini. Among many other things, Fellini was famous for a film called 8. The concept of the musical will delight anyone who loves European art house films, but requires no special knowledge to follow the story.

Marshall mounted his beautifully realized production with an all-star cast. Especially impressive is Daniel Day-Lewis as the fast-driving, fast-living Contini. Racing around Rome in a flashy sports car, wearing sunglasses after dark and ducking the paparazzi at every turn, he juggles the attentions of his leading lady (Nicole Kidman), his wife (Marion Cotillard) and his mistress (Penelope Cruz).

Contini considers film to be a dream whose evanescence he tries to capture. But the dreamlike setting of Cinecitta, the massive Roman studio Mussolini built to rival Hollywood, has become the prison for his imagination. He is blocked and addled, can’t sleep or think, and has only days before beginning a film for which he has neither script nor inspiration.

Many of the Bob Fosse-like song and dance numbers represent Contini’s reveries on his own greatness and the women he desires; others reflect the perspectives of the many women in his life, including his mother (Sophia Loren), his factotum (Judi Dench) and a Vogue reporter who pursues him (Kate Hudson). Nine conveys the stylishness and wit of Fellini’s films but also the melancholy underlying his vision of a society given over to the pursuit of pleasure.