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Cinematic Releases: Nine Days (2020) - Reviewed

Posted By themoviesleuth 760 days ago on Entertainment - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics In one of the strangest yet most fascinatingly visionary films of an already bizarre year for movies shuttered on and off by the COVID-19 pandemic comes the long delayed and eagerly anticipated debut of commercial Japanese-Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda, Nine Days.  Initially premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in February 2020 before being pushed all the way back to July 2021, this surreal paranormal yet quiet and painterly drama offers a new look on the afterlife, reincarnation and what it means to live in general.  Think of it as a live-action Soul of sorts aimed at adults keen on peculiar, idiosyncratic imaginings of what a soul might experience before the moment of conception. Within the midst of a vast desert landscape lies an isolated cabin housing Will (Winston Duke), a well-dressed gatekeeper for what appears to be the afterlife with Kyo (Benedict Wong) as his only companion.  His curious non-existence consists of interviewing and selecting new souls to potentially inhabit a human body and be born into the world with their memories playing out in first-person POV off of what appear to be a VHS tapes consisting of past souls he selected to live.  Candidates who are rejected are given one final memory of their choice as a parting gift before they’re erased from existence.  His favorite soul is Amanda whose career as a successful violinist is cut short by a tragic traffic accident, freeing up a vacancy lasting nine days for Will to find a new soul to plug into a new body.Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics Executive produced by Spike Jonze whose film Where the Wild Things Are and its starkness bears a striking resemblance to the ethereal open world of the afterlife conjured up in Oda’s film, Nine Days is a quiet human drama attempting to probe questions concerning the meaning of life and death.  Co-starring Zazie Beets, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale and Geraldine Hughes, the film moves at a leisurely pace but for the characters involved becomes a countdown as Will narrows down his search for the right candidate.  All the actors give heartfelt performances though the three steering this ship are undoubtedly Winstone Duke, Benedict Wong and Zazie Beetz who bring into their roles an unexpected level of command and confidence for such an unusual premise of a movie. Visually the film is a breathtaking little indie, shot beautifully by Beasts of the Southern Wild cinematographer in panoramic widescreen by Wyatt Garfield, capturing the desert landscapes beautifully intercut with intimate close-ups of the actors within the interior household.  Much of the film however is seen through CRT television screens with a striking series of first person POV shots including emergence from the birth canal, being held as an infant and an extraordinary moment where a character cries and the camera lens begins to well up with tears.  It’s an extraordinary technical effect that looks as real as one’s eyes would get trying to stare into the sun, with the wetness of the tears creating shiny and bending beams of light.  Soundtrack wise the score by City of God composer Antonio Pinto isn’t nearly as exciting as the visual end of things but as such it is a nice and quiet acoustic, occasionally orchestral score.   Special mention goes to the imaginative sets by Child’s Play production designer Dan Hermansen who creates a world of video-screen artifice that would make the likes of Peter Greenaway blush.  Take for instance a startling sequence where Will creates a memory for a soul to be erased, and the person is on a bicycle as we see screens being moved in to surround her until we are completely immersed by overtly videotape looking screens simulating her bicycling through the countryside.  It is immersive like being in a virtual reality plane with obvious theatricality to it.  Also throughout are scenes of Will watching tapes of memories with the entire room engulfed in projections of the tape he’s watching, as though the screens are creating a living breathing world out of magnetic cassettes. As previously mentioned, this is entirely Winston Duke’s show who demonstrated a wealth of acting talent in his contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Black Panther as well as the Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame films before taking up the leading role in Jordan Peele’s Us.  Here as the guardian of the passages between life, death and eternity, Duke gives a nuanced, subtle and at times heartfelt and passionate performance as Will.  It would have been very easy for Will to be a faceless emotionless cipher of death, but he turns what could have been an archetype into a three-dimensional character who rightly refers to himself as ‘just a cog in the wheel’.  Equally strong is Benedict Wong as a soul who can’t be erased who has watched Will’s struggles for years and knows him better than anybody else.Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics On paper, this is indeed a hard sell of a movie and one Hell of an ambitious undertaking for a first-time director who pushes his premise and the realization of it far past the outer edges of the limb.  It moves at a relaxed pace and for some will lack forward momentum or be too weird for its own good to others.  For yours truly, Nine Days joins films like Jacob’s Ladder, The Fountain and most recently The Tree of Life as a film that probes the idea of the intermediary stage between death and reincarnation and what sort of impact our lives may or may not make on the powers that be who determine whether or not we get to live at all.  As a quasi-science-fiction/fantasy/drama hybrid, Nine Days is weird and more than a little pretentious.  But as a slice of pure cinema driven by unique concepts and gifted performances, it’s a diamond in the rough waiting to be found!--Andrew Kotwicki (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; 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