There are twenty names on the poster for Nine Lives, and they represent a remarkably strong ensemble of talented actors. Director/writer Rodrigo Garcia (Ten Tiny Love Stories, Things You Can Tell by Looking at Her) seems to have no trouble attracting gifted people to his projects, and his new film captures such uniformly moving and believable performances, it's easy to see why.
Nine Lives is really a series of nine short films featuring nine female characters. Each vignette consists of a 10-14 minute emotionally charged slice of the character's life, shot elegantly and inventively in a single continuous take. Reportedly filmed in just 18 days (2 days per story), the approach is exhilarating rather than gimmicky, and the actors seem to relish the challenge, giving full-blooded, convincing performances that seldom ring a false note.
The movie opens in the claustrophobic corridor of a women's prison, and we are introduced to an inmate named Sandra. Played with sullen intensity by Elpidia Carillo (also in Garcia's Things You Can Tell by Looking at Her), Sandra works feverishly to earn the privileges "good behavior" can buy her, only to erupt in rage when her monthly visit with her young daughter is sabotaged by a malfunctioning prison phone. In the 12-14 minutes Garcia spends on Sandra, we are given a nuanced and powerful study of conflicting emotions—regret, defiance, grim determination, longing, and despair.
The stories that follow move from Sandra's literal prison to a variety of emotional ones. Robin Wright Penn (White Oleander, Message in a Bottle) gives arguably the film's finest performance as Diana, a married woman pregnant with her first child who becomes completely disoriented when she runs into her old flame Damian ...1
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