Thursday, December 31, 2009

FILM: Nine

For New Years Eve, we caught Nine, which is a bunch of musical numbers set into a parodic parade of clichés about Italian men and Italian film. While I've never seen the original Fellini films that inspired the Broadway musical on which this film is based, Fellini is so seminal I feel as though I have. Who isn't familiar with the idea of the Italian man who adores his mother and loves his wife while loving other women on the side too, without seeing any problem with that, because, well, women are just so beautiful? I don't know how much of this actually was Fellini versus how much he invented his film persona, and how much La Dolce Vita inspired versus reflected a whole generation of Italian men. But it's that idea that is played with throughout this film, as the filmmaker-within-the-film, Guido Contini, wanders (both in his imagination and in real life) from one woman to another who has been significant in his life, each with their own musical number. At first, the film might seem to be idolizing Contini's status as a filmmaker of national heroic status, and excusing his treatment of the women in his life, but it soon becomes clear that Contini is a charicature of his own self-image, and as various minor characters gently impugn him, he starts to become aware of his own emptiness. Of course, it doesn't fully come clear to him until his wife leaves him. Who'd have thought that this Fellini-inspired film would turn out to be a subtle morality tale, quietly urging the superiority of conventional morals over La Dolce Vita. But that's all a soft-pedaled undercurrent, in what is otherwise a scaffolding of excuse for a series of musical numbers with great visual impact performed by a range of stars including Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Fergie, Marion Cotillard, Judi Densch, and Sophia Loren. The parodies are visual as well as thematic, with fun cliché shots of women in billowing dresses, Italian fountains, charming Italian moonlit streets, and it's a delight to watch as well as listen to all the numbers. There's also amusing homage to the cliché relationship of Italians to their Roman Catholic church, revering it while being faithless, kind of the same way they relate to their wives. Guido, at one point, goes to a bishop for guidance, and asks the bishop if he believes in God. At another point, a priest confesses that even though Contini's films are officially banned by the church as immoral, they all love them. The early ones, anyway. Contini's fans are always telling poor Guido how much they loved his early works. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a brilliant perfomance as Guido, showing once again how he just completely transforms himself into his characters. And the constellation of female co-stars surrounding him are all luminous. This parade of parody and numbers was a diverting way to welcome the new year.

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