It’s remarkable when you think that Nine Days is writer and director Edson Edo’s first feature.
Rare is the debut work that has thematic sophistication, visual style and an ambitious original concept. Rarer still is the calibre of talent that Edo has assembled for his ethereal and thoughtful film, including Spike Jonze as one of the many producers.
Jonze’s involvement is interesting because Nine Days feels like a movie the American indie director would’ve made in his early days, although it’s not as idiosyncratic as his collaborations with Charlie Kauffman.
Nine Days does have that cerebral and almost-fantastical streak in common with Jonze’s oeuvre, so it’s easy to understand why Edo’s story might’ve appealed to the more established filmmaker.
Starring Winston Duke, Benedict Wong, Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale and Bill Skarsgard, Nine Days shares some thematic DNA with The Good Place and recent Pixar movie Soul – both excellent projects – but its approach is vastly different.
Will (Duke) lives in a cosy, modest house surrounded by desert. He was once alive but is now a selector, someone who chooses who is able to be born. Will then watches those he chose through a bank of TVs on his wall.
Each TV is a window into their lives, seen from their perspectives. When one of his charges, a violin prodigy named Amanda, dies, Will has the task of filling her spot. The only person he has for support is Kyo (Wong), a dogsbody soul who has never lived.
There is a nine-day audition process in which the physical manifestations of new souls are put through rounds of questions and tests to determine their suitability for life.
Among those in the audition are Emma (Beetz), Alexander (Hale), Kane (Skarsgard), Maria (Arianna Ortiz) and Mike (David Rysdahl). Make it to end of the interviews and the prize is life, if you don’t, you cease to be.
That sounds like a Hunger Games-esque challenge but it’s far more philosophical. When you can’t be judged for what you’ve done, you are only who you are, apparently gleaned through hypotheticals of how you might handle a situation in a concentration camp.
Will is challenged by Emma’s curiosity and free spirit, her attraction to the tactility of small experiences.
Meanwhile, he struggles to understand why Amanda died. Amanda’s death has stirred something within Will, emotions connected to his own life and death that has hardened his view of living.
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A revelation is quietly, slowly paced out but the examination of the inextricability of love and pain in living is at the heart of Nine Days.
Edo’s story was inspired by his uncle’s death many years ago and that personal tragedy is infused in his work, imbuing it with compassion and grace, especially for a character like Will who has mistaken numbness for safety.
Nine Days is a beautiful, memorable work, with its soft visuals from cinematographer Wyatt Garfield and deeply moving score by Antonio Pinto, but its Edo’s writing that soars above all.
It implores audiences to feel what we’re afraid of feeling and to consider that the pain of living is the ecstasy of life.
Nine Days is in cinemas nationally (except Sydney) from Thursday, July 15
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Originally published as New movie is a rare work of beauty