A woman goes shopping for groceries, and her world is upended. Although writer/director García sets some of the scenes in his omnibus film in more classically dramatic places – a graveyard, a funeral home, a hospital room – Nine Lives
’ most heartrending piece takes place in the neon-toned impersonality of the supermarket aisle. García has made his name – in addition to being the son of living legend Gabriel García Marquez – as a women’s director, dedicated to exploring what it means to be a wife, a mother, a daughter. His previous films include Ten Tiny Love Stories
and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her
; Nine Lives
shares with those films its omnibus approach, as well as an impressive female ensemble. Nine Lives
is composed of nine occasionally interlocking vignettes, starring a dozen or so terrific, mostly character actresses like Baker and Brenneman. Plot, if it may be called that, is confined to each vignette, and that is Nine Lives
’ only frustration: Certain characters and their particular pains become so engrossing in their 10-minute bits that it’s sad to see them go. (Occasionally, we do see them again; the interweaving never feels contrived, although García might have mined greater tension and revelation from the crisscrossing.) Penn, whose performance has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, is the standout as Diana, the woman shopping for groceries. There, she runs into an old lover, Damian (Isaacs), and it’s a remarkable trajectory, watching Diana slide from banality into confession. The dialogue is spot-on, but it’s the body language that really sells the thing – Diana’s mute stalking of the aisles with a slowly mounting hysteria, her subtle blocking of Damian’s first stab at connection, and finally, her body’s gentle pulling in to Damian’s irresistible magnetism. The scene – as with the other eight – is shot in one long take (by cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grobet, who lensed the magnificent Before Night Falls
); the effect creates not exactly claustrophobia, but rather a deeper, sometimes uneasy intimacy with each character. I can’t overstate what a small marvel that is: to burrow in for a brief 10 minutes and really get to know a character. Some of them, of course, are more interesting than others, and the final set-piece, curiously, is the least interesting of the bunch (even odder considering it’s anchored by two grande dames, Close and the eerily adult child actress Fanning). One wishes perhaps for a more thumping conclusion, but what we have instead is something perfectly in the spirit of the piece, reaffirming that life, big and little, happens in 10-minute chunks. Sometimes in that 10 minutes, your world is upended; more often, and maybe more awful, it doesn’t change at all.