By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The stylish world of mid-1960s Rome provides the backdrop for the glossy but morally shallow musical drama "Nine" (Weinstein).
Director Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Arthur L. Kopit and Maury Yeston’s 1982 Broadway hit — itself an homage to Federico Fellini’s classic autobiographical fantasy "8 1/2," released in 1963 — is, like both its sources, the portrait of a man in creative and personal meltdown.
World-weary, yet as much a prey as ever to his own relentless desires, Fellini stand-in Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), although a celebrated film director addressed as "Maestro" by virtually everyone he meets, is on the rebound, when we first see him, from two flops. Worse, he has yet to write a word of the script for his latest work — grandly entitled "Italia" — despite the fact that it’s about to go into production.
As Guido scrambles to conceal his artistic dry spell, he also struggles to maintain the tangled relationships that complicate his private life. These include his marriage to much put-upon former actress Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his longstanding affair with sultry but unstable Carla (Penelope Cruz), his on-again, off-again tie to favorite leading lady and muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman) and his friendship with sensible costume designer and confidante Lilli (Judi Dench).
Also thrown into the emotional mix are the ghost of Guido’s loving earth-mother Mamma (Sophia Loren) and — very much alive and kicking — flirtatious visiting Vogue journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson).
Despite the occasional acknowledgment of the damage wrought by Guido’s philandering, as penned by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, "Nine" — which mostly treats adultery as a symptom of sophistication — amounts to a celebration of its hero’s long and busy sexual career.
As established in an extended flashback, this carnal chase dates back at least to the day when, as a boy, he led a party of his peers down to the local beach to ogle a willing display of flesh put on by the town prostitute Saraghina (Stacy Ferguson, aka Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie).
This escapade earns him a rebuke from Mamma and a caning by a priest (read: agent of the overly powerful, sexually repressive Catholic Church). Moving from the tyrannical to the hypocritical, as an adult, Guido encounters far friendlier cleric Don Mario (Michele Alhaique), who blithely assures him that, although the church condemns his films, the clergy all love them.
Rounding things off by demonstrating the church’s irrelevance, Don Mario’s boss, a star-struck cardinal (Remo Remotti) whom Guido presents with a photo of Claudia signed in lipstick, can offer the maestro some poetic advice — "The imagination is God’s garden," he observes — but, as for answers or solutions, he has none to give.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains a pervasive negative portrayal of Catholicism, brief nongraphic adulterous sexual activity, recurrent adultery theme, partial upper female and rear nudity, a couple of uses of profanity and a few crass terms. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.