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Nine Lives

Nine Compelling Stories

In Nine Lives, director Rodrigo Garcia revisits the formula he utilized in his directorial debut, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. In short, several loosely connected women deal with various challenges and issues in their lives. Crafting nine separate, compelling vignettes with intriguing and interesting characters is no small feat. Remarkably, Garcia pulls it off for the most part.

As is the case with most well crafted films, each short vignette begins right in the middle of the action. There's no time for preamble, background, or excessive exposition. This sense of immediacy is further underscored by the fact that each vignette is filmed in one long take. As a viewer, it's hard not to feel somewhat voyeuristic as we peer into the intimate details of each character's life.

Each segment is framed simply by the name of the character (e.g. -- "Lorna", "Maggie", etc.) and we are quickly thrust into the crux of the individual's conflict. The manner in which Garcia introduces the issue at hand is in most cases clever and provocative. In the case of Diana (well played by Robin Wright Penn), she idly pushes her grocery cart down the aisle of a supermarket. The camera is tight on Diana's face as she sees something that elicits a facial expression that is a remarkable amalgamation of shock, despair, and elation.

Pulling off a solid performance in a single extended take is no small feat. Fortunately, Garcia did an excellent job in casting his film. Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and Kathy Baker are but a few of the excellent actors who bring an emotional intensity and urgency to their respective performances.

While all of the aforementioned do an excellent job, it is Robin Wright Penn's powerful performance in the "Diana" segment that really stands out. Penn owns the role and injects incredible emotional complexity and internal turmoil into her turn as Diana. In a segment that runs barely ten minutes, Penn exhibits incredible range as she encounters a former lover. Penn conveys just about every conceivable emotion with remarkable subtlety.

In Nine Lives, Rodrigo Garcia has assembled a film that succeeds on all fronts. The nine stories are engaging and each contains a challenging issue for the main character to address. Complementing the well- constructed narratives are some of the better performances seen this year. While Nine Lives offers no easy solutions to the issues addressed, this is part of the appeal of the film. Garcia's film feels true to life as there are few issues in life that are easily (or tidily) resolved.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 stars