When a director has ambitious technical goals, as Rodrigo García has in Nine Lives, his narrative goals should logically suffer -- at least a little bit. Yet the Colombian writer/director avoids such pitfalls in this impressive collection of short films, each 10 to 15 minutes in length, featuring an array of female characters living in modern-day Los Angeles. Some of their lives intersect, some don't, but each snapshot reveals enough to give that story independent resonance, without the compulsive and gimmicky need to relate everyone to everyone else. Skeptics might argue that García's technique is already gimmick enough. Namely, each short unfurls in real time, captured in a single continuous take using a Steadicam. Not only is this a feat of precise choreography, it also places intense pressure on the actors, whose any stuttered line or missed cue could force them to scrap the whole shot, even moments from completion. For cinematography geeks, it's enthralling to watch Xavier Pérez Grobet's camera snake through a women's prison and navigate the aisles of a grocery store, all while his director (himself a former DP) conducts the actors to their marks at the exact right moment. Almost showing off, García even points the camera into several mirrors, without the recording device once appearing in the reflected image. But Nine Lives is no mere stylistic exercise. García remains fascinated by the social experiences of women, returning to some of the same topics from his film Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, and using a handful of the actresses (Holly Hunter, Glenn Close, Amy Brenneman, Kathy Baker) from that project as well. His technique illuminates themes from both films. "Just by looking" at these women, during key 10-minute snippets from their lives, a viewer can see the minute suffering that's central to their identities.
by Derek Armstrong review