Rodrigo Garcia’s cast and crew had to move very quickly to produce this small gem. Shot in just eighteen days on a tight budget, the entire movie consists of nine 10- to 14-minute segments, each shot on a different location and in real time. The film opens in a prison setting and closes in a cemetery. Each of the nine separate vignettes tells the story of a woman negotiating an emotional crossroads. As the protagonist of one tale turns up as a minor character in another woman’s story, the interweaving plots lines create the sense of a domestic epic reminiscent of Robert Altman’s Nashville.
The film opens with Sandra (Elpida Carrillo) in prison, awakening to the constricting web to which her past decisions have led. Wanting desperately, but unable to connect with her daughter during visiting hours, Sandra lashes out at the guard and rejects the proffered friendship of a fellow inmate. In her moment of rebellion, she realizes in some concrete specifics how her life is going to be hell.
Sandra turns up again much later in Nine Lives, as a minor character being arrested at a sleazy motel. Her crime remains unclear, but her fate is already known to the audience. Here, what will become her private hell is merely the tawdry backdrop for another character, Ruth (Sissy Spacek), wrestling with her own emotional imprisonment.
Ruth, too, has appeared as a minor character in another previous vignette, as the wife of a wheelchair-bound husband and mother to the teenager Samantha (Amanda Seyfreid). Ruth’s motel rendezvous represents her attempt to find the physical and emotional connection missing in her home life. From yet another previous vignette the audience knows Sammy is claustrophobically trapped in the emotional web of interlocutor between her parents. As Lisa Gay Hamilton’s character Holly observes at one point, "you never know where love is going to show its ugly face."
Garcia prepared a carefully crafted script, and then turned it over to a well-matched set of accomplished actors. The richly nuanced and often understated character studies which result have the feel of Chekhov. The moral seriousness of Nine Lives, about the dark internal forces which guide the human heart, evokes a Bergmaneqsue vision. Yet, despite Garcia’s pronouncements about his preoccupation with the "imprisonment of relationships," Nine Lives captures the magical redemptive qualities as well. Without ever losing the tension of individuals struggling to find balance between hope and despair, and almost against Garcia’s will, this film celebrates the joys of human interconnection, the frailty of human desire, and the awesome power of hope and love to transcend the ties that bind and imprison.