Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz
Direction: Rob Marshall
Federico Fellini must surely be rock-and-rolling in his grave. The Italian maestro’s trendsetting 8 ½ is incarnated as a musical extravaganza set in the mid-1960s. Despite the chic period costumes and an A-list cast, the outcome is curiously devoid of empathy and passion.
A large part of the blame can be attributed to the none-too-catchy tunes and the tendency of director Marshall (Chicago) to utilise frenetic editing patters for the big song-and-dance numbers. As in Fellini’s original, the central character is a famous filmmaker named Guido. After a couple of flops, he (Day-Lewis) is paralysed by creative block. Even though a press conference is called to announce his new film, Guido has not yet written a single word of the script. Worse, the director sinks deeper into a world of dream and fantasy.
In a series of strikingly choreographed routines, he recalls the women who inspired him, from his long-suffering wife (Marion Cottilard, terrific) to a movie-star muse (Nicole Kidman, dispiriting). Elsewhere, there are glimpses of his late mother (yesteryear’s screen goddess, Sophia Loren) and costume designer confidante (Judi Dench performing “Folies Bergere” with oodles of oomph).
Marshall also interweaves memories of Guido’s childhood. The young boy’s obsession with a prostitute (pop star Fergie) morphs into the film’s rousing highlight, “Be Italian”.
Nine is heavy going at times, but still well worth viewing for its showbiz razzmatazz.