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Full disclosure: I never caught the bug for Italian cinema of the 1960s that infests most cinephiles; Rob Marshall’s film of Chicago gave me a headache and little else. So I am probably not the ideal audience for Nine, Marshall’s adaptation of the Broadway show that was in turn adapted from 8 1/2, Federico Fellini’s 1963 film about his inability to make a new film. It seems equally inspired by the oeuvre of Bob Fosse, who originally staged Chicago and was more than a little influenced by Fellini: He turned Nights of Cabiria into Sweet Charity and more or less remade 8 1/2 as All That Jazz. All of which makes Nine (not to be confused with the recent animated feature 9—lord, when does it all end?) into the perfect subject for a connect-the-dots term paper but not much else. Nine follows blocked filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he obsesses about his past and present relationships with women. In a staggering display of misused talent, going by the number of Oscar-winners and nominees, these are played by Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren, each but the last of whom stars in a production number in which she is tarted up like a thousand-lira hooker (and yes, that includes the 75-year-old Dame Dench). Speculating that this might be a comment on the relentless vulgarization of Italian culture under Silvio Berlusconi would be giving far too much credit to Marshall, who seems incapable of an original idea. Far too much of the film is shot on approximations of the stage sets, and his idea of opening the musical numbers up for film inevitably consists of adding in unnecessary flashback footage. Substituting for intended star Javier Bardem, Day-Lewis dances minimally and sings adequately (though in an Italian accent that makes his songs sound like Jason Segel’s Dracula tune in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). As Contini’s long-suffering wife, Marion Cotillard fares best of the actresses, though even she has to spend most of the film pouting in the background. But perhaps I misinterpret—that could be a smirk of relief that that she was spared something like Kate Hudson’s awful “Cinema Italiano” number. It’s not bad enough to become a camp classic a la Showgirls; on the other hand, neither is that a market that should be ignored when this hits DVD.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Nine

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