Nine (2009) dir. Rob Marshall
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman
By Alan Bacchus
Poor Rob Marshall, it was a major mountain to climb, remaking Fellini’s 8 ½ as a musical, in English. Apparently it was a successful broadway musical in the 80's but its translation back to the big screen puts it directly against the original film as the ultimate test of its success. Daniel Day-Lewis tries his best stepping into Marcello Mastrioanni’s shoes as the creatively tortured director Guido Contini, and his coterie of sultry movie star gals who play the influential women in his life all look perfect, but its Marshall's surprisingly dull musical numbers which cause the picture to fail.
Nine is both a love letter to Fellini, the 60’s, filmmaking, Italy and the sexual freedom of the 1960’s. Guido Contini is a star auteur Italian director revered for his early pictures but suffering from a number of recent failures. As he preps his next picture and with producers, press agents, art directors, actresses, all chasing him around for creative direction, Cotini resorts to his sexual flings to provide him peace.
Unfortunately, Contini is married and naturally his wife objects to in transgressional behaviour. As his mind wanders back into his subconscious to confront all the important women in his life he is forced to reconcile his egotistical life of career self-absorbtion with the potential loss of his wife and family.
The spectre of Fellini’s great masterpiece acts like a suffocating blanket over the first half of the film. The film follows the same narrative path and even recreates word for word and sometimes shot for shot the same scenes as 8 ½. The Cruz/Day-Lewis sexual fetish sequence for instance is a carbon copy of the great scene which has the Mastrioanni’ version of Guido directing his #1 mistress to play a slutty stranger who walks into the wrong room. It’s a tall order not to compare the two, and for Marshall to even close to matching the creative visual gymnastics of Fellini’s cameraworks and sense of swinging 60’s vitality is damned near impossible.
The film finds its own voice in the second half when the film gradually departs from the source material. It’s a different era than the swinging 60’s and Marshall has to make Guido accountable for his indiscretions. And so the film becomes a story of Guido’s emotional crisis, not a creative or career crisis - a fight to save his marriage and win back the only woman he truly loves.
Marshall uses the same visual palette as ‘Chicago’, the musical sequences are distinctly separate from the dramatic sequences. Throughout the narrative Guido’s mind wanders into a memory or moment of imagination visualized with a musical dance sequence. While each of ‘Chicago’s’ sequences had their own unique flavour, there’s an indistinct sameness of most of the ‘Nine’s’ sequences. Marshall inhibits himself by choreographing most of these numbers around Guido’s partially built Romanesque studio set, so for each of Fergie, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, and Day-Lewis himself, walk, talk, sing and dance around the same uninspired scaffolding set. Even the dance choreography is indistinct, most of which are variations of burlesque-influenced sexual teasing.
The only number which jumps out at the screen to get one’s foot tapping is Kate Hudson’s swinging 60’s number, ‘Italiano’, a vibrant and bouncy, like Chanel commercial performed by Lady Gaga. I suspect, even Marshall knows the power of this piece as he repeats it during the end credits.