Notes on ‘Nine’

October 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

(review originally posted on, titled “A Dwarf Echoing A Giant”)

“Nine” takes advantage of the enigmatic charm and seductive power of Rome and of film, both of which Fellini helped to create.  It seems only fitting that somebody (Maury Yeston) should come along to add another element: music. Now Rob Marshall has tackled the enormous task of creating a film adaptation of a musical that was an adaptation of a cinema classic and he has succeed in many areas, while falling short in others.

Let’s start positive: The Cast. The introduction to the women that have shaped Guido Contini (Day Lewis) was a beautiful parade of talented actresses from new cinema (Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard) and classic cinema (Dame Judi Dench and Sophia Loren).  It was a weak overture, but watching film legends introduce the moral conflict of our protagonist was a strong open.

Quick personal note, I was skeptical of the casting of both Kate Hudson and Fergie.  Both of these performances ended up two of the most memorable of the film.  The performance of “Be Italian” mixes the pageantry and spectacle of the modern musical with the coming of age scene lifted straight from  “8 ½” but with Fergie in the role of Saraghina. There is a sense of nostalgia when I see this scene, like when watching Truffaut’s “Les Mistons.” It is young boys getting a lesson of love and sexuality from the older woman, preparing young Guido for manhood.

“Cinema Italiano” simply had a particular style that captivated me, and Kate Hudson unexpectedly pulled off the performance.  The costumes to the sets and “go-go” extras, it sums up the mystical appeal of celebrity in the sixties with flashbulbs, sequins, Italian sports cars and shoes, glitz and glamour.

It is unfair to comment on only two performances because it incidentally causes exclusion. It would be criminal to exclude Marion Cotillard from any praise.  Her performance, both musically and in those moments bridging musical numbers, is endearing and heartbreaking as the wife of the philandering Maestro.  While “Be Italian” and “Cinema Italiano” had the flash, flesh and spectacle, Cotillard’s two numbers are the heart and the emotion. Her bewitching abilities make her the best part of the film.

Now where has “Nine” fallen short? About midway through the film Nicole Kidman, playing Claudia the American movie star, appears and adds confusion to an already confused Guido.  This is where we need to start making a comparison to “8 ½” because where Claudia Cardinale seemed to have a wonderful chemistry with Marcello Mastroianni, there was something missing between Kidman and Day Lewis from which the film never recovers. “8 ½” gained strength through end of the film, and “Nine” continued to decline.

To start an appropriate comparison, there is a 12th century quote, “…we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” Rob Marshall tries to valiantly to stand on Fellini’s shoulders, but ends up like more of an admirer.

Fellini’s exploration of the exhausting chaos that surrounds a director when sitting at the helm of a picture was done with masterful brush strokes. The opening dream in “8 ½” is phenomenal in its brevity, aptly summing up the emotional state of the protagonist through metaphoric visuals. In a scene where Guido walks the lobby of the hotel, Fellini essentially choreographed a dance for Guido to physically and verbally elude a slew of questions hurled at him.

These two scenes were the groundwork laid by a giant from which a dwarf should launch. The opening introduction of the women in Guido’s life could have been so much more. It could have been a dream that Contini floats through; use Fellini’s imagery of a man as a kite being pulled back to Earth. Do something that shows us you are taking advantage of the groundwork laid before you!

The dance by the producers and the other department heads hassling him about the production could have been a spectacularly choreographed dance.  He could have evaded every approaching colleague with slick, smooth movements. Sir Isaac Newton expounded on the quote above, saying “if I have seen further than others, it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

If he has seen further!  We must go further than the giants before us.  My disappointment lies with the limits it appears Marshall and Maury Yeston placed on themselves.  This is Fellini in color; Fellini as musical spectacle! He gave Marshall and Yeston everything they needed to be great; instead they chose restraint.

Perhaps Nietzsche was right; the dwarves cannot comprehend what the giants see, so the giants are just shouting what they see across the annals of time.  What we get with Rob Marshall’s “Nine,” while a good film in its own right, is merely an echo of the radiant giant that came before him.

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