Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nine, Broken Embraces turn cameras on visionary filmmakers

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge ARM CANDY: Lena (Penélope Cruz, left) with Mateo (Lluís Homar) in Broken Embraces
  • ARM CANDY: Lena (Penélope Cruz, left) with Mateo (Lluís Homar) in Broken Embraces

"Write about what you know" is usually good advice, and some of the best movies turn the cameras around to consider the passions and contradictions of show business. Films about filmmaking can be as diverse as Singin' in the Rain's show-stopping musical numbers, The Player's biting satire, and 8 ?'s caustic self-portrait. The best take an insider's point of view and look deep enough to find the universal.

Even master screen artists, however, can mistake their pet obsessions for the stuff of great drama. Two new films about filmmaking put plenty of talent on display – and share Penélope Cruz at her most tempestuously attractive – without fully engaging their audiences. Pedro Almodóvar's Spanish melodrama Broken Embraces turns out to be a little too personal, while Rob Marshall's musical head-trip Nine may not be personal enough.

Nine comes full circle upon its arrival in movie houses. The material began as Fellini's semi-autobiographical 1963 film 8 ? about a burned-out director and his female fixations. It inspired a 1982 Tony-winning musical, which Chicago's Oscar-winning director has now adapted for the big screen. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a celebrated, creatively blocked maestro who flees from his ninth and latest production to hide out at a lavish coastal spa. Instead of working, he muses on the women in his life, including his long-suffering wife (Marion Cotillard), his saucy mistress (Cruz), his wardrobe designer/mentor (Judi Dench) and his leading lady/muse (Nicole Kidman).

Each Oscar-caliber actress gets at least one burlesque-style musical number, although the songs blur together and the choreography amounts to little more than suggestive poses and come-hither attitude. Cotillard offers the most poignant moments, including a striptease that conveys her feelings of betrayal at Guido's infidelities. As a prostitute from Guido's youth, the Black-Eyed Peas' Fergie performs the most memorable number, the roof-rattling, tambourine-smacking "Be Italian." It's ironic, though, that Nine repeatedly makes such a point of Italian authenticity when Sophia Lauren, as Guido's mother, is the only Italian in the principal cast.

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(Photo Courtesy Emilio Pereda and Paola Ardizzoni)

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