[Ed. note: This review was first published in conjunction with Nine Days’ release at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It has been updated for the film’s theatrical release.]
Log line: In a barren, surreal place in front of life, a bureaucrat introduces potential people and decides who will be born until he gets into a crisis of faith due to an earlier decision.
Longer line: The Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters, Nobody knows) made one of the most charming and distinctive dramas of the decade: After the live, a touching film about the processes people go through after their death. In his vision, the dead walk into a shabby, low-tech office where otherworldly bureaucrats help them sort their lives and choose a perfect memory to recreate and relive. Once this process is complete, the dead move on. It’s unclear what they do with these last memories or who started the whole system, but it doesn’t matter: the relevant part is the peace and thoughtfulness that sets in after life and the process of getting the essence of it sift.
Edson Oda’s debut film Nine days owes a lot After the live in its tone, plot details (including the idea of low-tech recreations of moving moments), and aesthetics (including the same retro technology). It’s more passionate and painful, with less peace, but it mimics the feel of a gentle bureaucracy looking through all of life’s experiences and deciding what really matters. But instead of looking like a copy, it’s a perfect match, a movie that feels like it could be set in the same universe even though it tells a completely different story.
Winston Duke (Black Panther, US) Stars like Will, a fussy, downtrodden bureaucrat charged with interviewing and testing people to fill “vacancies” on earth. After sending someone into childbirth, they follow their life in real time on a wall of old televisions and take notes of their progress. When one of his protégés dies, a bunch of new souls appears, each with a more or less fully developed personality. Will interviews and tests her over a nine-day period and then picks one for birth. The rejections just go away in nothing – but first Will lets them choose a moment from an earthly life that they saw on his monitors and found meaningful, and he tries to let them experience that moment before they leave.
Will feels like he’s been doing this for a long time, with little company other than the new souls and his assistant and friend Kyo (Doctor StrangeBenedict Wong). But when something terrible happens to one of his chosen ones on Earth, Will begins to become obsessed with understanding exactly what happened to her, which tarnishes his logic when he encounters her possible successors.
These respondents have radically different approaches to the possible life that lies ahead of them. Kane (Bill Skarsgård, the pennywise of IT films) is a wild young man who sees violence as a possible solution to many of the questions Will poses about his behavior on earth. Alex (Arrested development‘s Tony Hale) is more laid back and just wants to enjoy a beer and a barbecue with Will’s company. Mike (David Rysdahl) is a talented artist without the courage to defend or even accept his own work. Maria (Arianna Ortiz) is a sensitive, calm guy who, above all, wants to please Will with the right answers. And Emma (Dead Pool‘s Zazie Beetz) is calmly independent, dodging Will’s quizzes and concentrating on her own passions. The fact that only one of them will survive more than a few days is there Nine days Pathos, it also provides the framework for a series of explorations into what it means to be human, for better and for worse.
The quote that says it all: “You are considered for the amazing opportunity that life offers.”
What is it trying to do? In the most reducing way Nine days could be summed up as a film that celebrates the experience of life and reminds viewers to cherish every moment and take full advantage of every opportunity. It is certainly sobering to see how Will’s candidates are so deeply moved and excited by the few naked moments in life they experience. Nobody ever says something as banal as “Live to the fullest and cherish every moment” – this is not a sermon or memorization film. But it is hard to miss how much life is cherished by people who have never experienced it and how clearly they find beauty in even the most mundane moments they experience. In that sense, it feels like a counterpart for Pixars soul, another film that explores how the world before life is defined by the experiences people have on earth.
Does it get there? Nine days is an unusually moving and well-made film that sells the “Carpe Diem” message in dozens of ways without nagging audiences about it and without the kind of overbearing sentimentality that normally comes with that message. The notion that most of the new souls that appear on screen will be gone forever within a few days has calm drama and tension over who Will be voting. But the film never turns out like the tense reality show competition it could be. It’s not about who “wins”. It’s about Will’s emotional state as he tries to stay cool and professional even though he’s slowly falling apart.
Nine days is ultimately Will’s story, but Oda expertly gives all the characters their own little arcs, turning their interactions with Will into rich and subtle revelations of their characters. The script never really explains the rules of past life. Viewers have to intuitively recognize or witness them when they become relevant, and it gives Kyo the opportunity to hypothesize an even larger universe around them. Oda also reveals its setting piece by piece: Will lives in a shabby ranch house in the middle of a vast, empty desert (the film was shot in Utah), a place that doesn’t feel entirely real. There’s more to it, and like everything else in the movie, the other possibilities of this place unfold when the timing is right. But in the meantime, Oda uses the setting to snap some beautifully barren shots, contrasting them with the claustrophobia of Will’s house – and his life.
Duke has always been a tremendous talent, however Nine days is a feast for him, a chance to whisper and roar, to play the rigid, emotionless bureaucrat who sets the rules and the crumbling trauma victim who mourns everyone he has sent to their fate among the living. (At one particularly deep moment, he growls at Kyo, “I send flowers and other people send pigs to eat them!”) It’s a deep and complicated role, and he performs it brilliantly. Beetz is noteworthy too – a smaller version of this movie would turn her into a sassy pixie dream girl who all has winning bounce and kitty appeal. But Beetz plays Emma almost like a philosopher’s child, naive in everything, but infinitely interested in the possibilities of the world. She’s never cute and often subtly annoys Will, but she embodies a kind of calm enjoyment of life
There are elements by Krzysztof Kieślowskis The double life of Veronique In Nine days, in the swooned way Will’s favorite soldier on earth lives for music, and in its ultimate destiny. There is evidence of The Truman Show in the Panoptikum, which allows him to monitor their lives, and from Albert Brooks’ defend your life in imagination and execution as Will subjects his candidates to a metaphysical test to see what they’re made of. And there are echoes of After the live runs through the whole film, from the fascination for VHS tapes to the candidates who rebel against the system. but Nine days is still a unique film of its own that tells a strange and wonderful story in a way that calls for a deep attention to every detail of each character, to the environment and to the way people experience real life – both the intense ones , important moments as well as in the mundane.
What’s in it for us? An absolute masterpiece. Nine days“The unconventional setting and premise are a bit of a thrill in their own right, but the actual implementation of the story is moving and confident. Oda takes his time with everything, but subtly builds up his characters in layers until they feel real. He does the same with this strange world that leaves many questions unanswered but never gives the feeling that the answers are necessary to understand the story. The whole film is more of a gentle poem about the meaning of life than a scream – until it finally turns into screaming, in a rousing ending that evades the most obvious clichés on the board. It’s the kind of film that makes a name for a director.
The most meme-capable moment: This is really not a memeing film, but there is an exceptionally beautiful desert shot of Duke and Beetz moving in silhouette towards each other, taken from an extreme distance so that they are tiny figures in a vast wasteland. Instagram guys could probably put some fun labels on it.
When can we see it? Nine days Premiere in theaters on July 30th.