As autumn approaches, film lovers are looking forward to film festivals and the prestige films that often screen after a summer aimed at teenage audiences. This year has been quite different, of course. Arriving at movie theaters now are a few films that premiered over a year ago at the last in-person film festival, Sundance 2020. Amid the big spectacles of summer programming like the hilarious and inventive “Free Guy” and the family friendly action of “The Jungle Cruise,” we have films like “Coda” and “Nine Days.” Will they find an audience when there are so few people venturing back to the theater?
This week I'm scrambling to see a few films before I head off to Telluride for the film festival. How strange to be struggling to catch up with films from last year's Sundance Film Festival and new films that just screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival. All so I can write about them before I'm flooded with new films at my first in-person festival. When I went to my local art house movie theater this week, there was a big poster featuring a review for “Nine Days” in the lobby. Sadly, with limited foot traffic into the theater, I wonder how many people took the time to read it. That's a shame because it's a glowing review from comicbookmovie.com. The writer who reviewed the film, Josh Wilding, and I are in sync with our praise for this movie.
“Nine Days” is likely going to be my favorite film of the year. Profound and quiet, moving and thought provoking, it's the concept and execution that make this an unusual film. Director and writer Edson Oda has directed many short films, but winning the Waldo Salt Screening Award at Sundance gave him the confidence to make his first feature. With a list of producers almost as long as the cast, there are a lot of folks who believe in this film. There are also a lot of stars — Winston Duke stars (and is also an executive producer), Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgård and Benedict Wong. Attracting big name stars and producers is highly unusual for a feature that's a directorial debut.
Edson Odo, who's Brazilian and Japanese, has earned high praise from his cast and crew. He did a lot of research to attain the perfect rhythm for the film. He also watched “Her,” Spike Jone's sci-fi film, during pre-production. He used the Scarlett Johansson-voiced computer companion as inspiration for how a newborn soul might interact with humans. After debuting the spi-fi (spiritual fiction) film to great acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, Odo and his production team sent the film to Spike Jones. Jones became an executive producer and a champion of the film.
If my experience with the film is any indication, “Nine Days” can use champions. And a better marketing campaign from Sony Pictures Classic. It's the type of film that needs to build audience buzz slowly through word of mouth. That's not going to happen when so few people are venturing out. Though the film will likely stream on Starz after it's theatrical release, I believe there won't be enough momentum to get people to see it. How sad if audiences missed this amazing performance by Winston Duke. Many moviegoers will associate him with a very different character, that of M'Baku from “The Black Panther.” If either he or Zazie Beetz (television series “Atlanta”) receive award nominations, that might boost the popularity of this wonderful, quiet film. Even the poster image, though evocative of the stillness of the story, translates poorly as an image online in movie listings. I've seen it as a blank square many times — ironically, also evocative of the story.
As a film lover who sees at least a film a week, I also read film reviews. “Nine Days” was on my radar and a good thing, too. It only screened for one week. It's a powerful story based on Odo's uncle who died by suicide. The description is wonderfully brief: “A man interviews five unborn souls to determine which one can be given life on Earth.” The trailer gives a good representation of the film. The theme of quiet contemplation to determine one's worth should ring true for anyone having emerged from this pandemic. It's a challenge to find our worth and our place in the scheme of things. This premise is an interesting thing to contemplate back in January 2020, but now, mirrors what many people have gone through during lockdowns and the loss of loved ones and jobs that they may have felt defined them.
The simplicity of the sets, the perfect soundtrack, heart-felt performances that anyone can relate to, and there’s a resolution that is earned and lands with a searing intensity. “Nine Days” brings to mind,” the Pixar film where emotions are the characters. Each of the five candidates is representing a facet of humanity: romantic love, creativity and sensitivity, insecurity and friendship, honesty and selfishness, and wonder. The crux of the story: The one who must choose which candidate gets to advance to life is also a flawed being. Will he choose the worthiest candidate or only the one he deems strong enough to survive what he experienced as a place of cruelty?
Each of the actors give a wonderful interpretation of these characters and it's a delight to watch them struggle with their challenges. Beetz is brilliant, and her role is the key to understanding the character of Will, Duke's character. Will’s coworker and patient friend (Wong) and this one unknowable candidate (Beetz) help this closed off man begin to heal. To say more would be to ruin the genuine pleasure this film will reveal to all who are patient and willing to seek “Nine Days” out. I hope you will.
Drinks with Films rating: 5 beers that you pretend to drink to keep someone company out of 5