… which is what Nine should really be called, as it’s the film of the Broadway stage musical version of the theatre adaptation of Fellini’s movie Eight and a Half, which was so called because it was, according to Fellini, his eighth-and-a-half film (it’s complicated, but as well as a handful of features he’d made a couple of shorts and done a collaboration and he added the “halves” up), and this is the fourth feature film directed by Rob Marshall, after a TV movie of Annie, the Oscar-hoovering Chicago and Memoirs Of A Geisha. Phew. I must admit, I enjoyed Marshall’s Chicago, I’m a fan of the great Hollywood musicals of the 40s and 50s, and if I go to the theatre it’s usually to see a musical, as I find them tremendously good value. So it felt quite natural to go and see Nine at the cinema. It’s already gathered quite a hand of Golden Globe nominations, and I daresay Oscar will come calling, but it’s really handicapped by that title. It’s rubbish. It says nothing. It’s just a number. It even looks dull written down as a word. I wonder if the title will have actually prevented people from seeing it? After all, the poster image gives nothing away but the main cast, and the tagline, “Be Italian”, is not helpful. Do we have to “be Italian” to enjoy it? Is it about people “being Italian”? Well, it is about Italians, so I suppose they have no choice.
If you like musicals, I say give it a whirl. You won’t know any of the songs. I’ve seen it, and I can’t whistle any of them. But it’s well staged, the cast are pretty good, and if you like Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s, there is plenty to enjoy, as Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the Fellini/Mastroianni role, a middle-aged director unable to make a film due to a midlife crisis of confidence and, frankly, a complicated love life imploding around him in Rome, and the musical numbers sort of spring up around him. If you like Rome, you’ll enjoy the sightseeing, and the direct references to La Dolce Vita, Anita Ekberg, the prototype paparazzi and various other period signifiers. The girls – that is, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Fergie (ha ha, not the Duchess one), Kate Hudson, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren (who doesn’t have to move much) – are superb, and I speak as someone who can’t usually bear to be in the same cinema as Nicole Kidman. Luckily, she only has a marginal part; she swans in, and after one number, swans out again. The bulk of the responsibility falls at the capable feet of Cotillard – how nice to see her with something to do after the false start of her first Hollywood movie, the useless Public Enemies. If anyone steals the film from this formidable chorus, it’s Judi Dench, actually, although you have to admire the way Day-Lewis inhabits a part, carrying himself in such a convincing way, even in silhouette.
So, after the disappointment of Sherlock Holmes, it was good to see something that held my attention and did not insult me. It’s not a classic, but it’s full of artistic merit. And I saw it in a small cinema, the HMV Curzon, where people seem happy to pay their money, turn their phones off and watch the film. Radical.