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Nine women deal with relationships both past and present: prisoner Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo) awaits her visiting child; Diana (Robin Wright Penn) confronts a forgotten relationship; Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) needs her stepfather to acknowledge his actions; Sonia (Holly Hunter) is devastated by her boyfriend's confession; Samantha (Amanda Seyfreid) is a peacemaker between her parents; Lorna (Amy Brenneman) is implicated in a suicide; Ruth (Sissy Spacek) considers adultery; Camille (Kathy Baker) faces her aging body; and Maggie (Glenn Close) is being eclipsed by her daughter Maria (Dakota Fanning). Winner, Golden Leopard (Best Film), 2005 Locarno International Film Festival. Written and directed by Rodrigo García.

 Nine Lives

I’ve often been asked why I make movies about women and I’ve given my standard reply: I don’t make movies about women, I make movies about things that interest me, using female characters. Jason Isaacs, who plays Damian in Nine Lives, went further than I had dared to go. “You write about women,” he said to me the day we met, “because it enables you to write about emotional subjects emotionally.” He’s right. I’m a wimp, like most men, and I don’t want to be naked on stage if I don’t have to be. Hidden behind these women I can explore the stuff that scares me: relationships we can’t escape; the dependence on loved ones; the caretaking of loved ones; the expectations of loved ones; the loss of loved ones. Can we share our innermost self with a loved one? And if we can’t—what is left for us?

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. But I am fascinated by the intensity with which (in my imagination) women want what they want. In my imagination women want the things they want— justice, love, shoes—with a fierce and often secret passion and a longing and a melancholy and a loneliness that makes men’s desires seem unrefined and short by comparison. I love thinking about women in those terms. Maybe they are like that—but they’re not saying.

To be a writer and a director of female characters satisfies so many voyeuristic, maternal, sexual, patriarchal instincts in me. Plus it’s the only area where I feel I can compete with other male directors—so there’s even a macho pleasure to it. My friend the writer Eliseo Alberto said to me when his daughter was born: it’s astonishing to see yourself reproduced in the opposite sex.

These are some of my favorite women:

Marie, a woman whose husband has gone missing. Marie tries to go on living as if he was just out buying cigarettes. Played by Charlotte Rampling in François Ozon’s Under the Sand.

Mary Poppins, the British super nanny overflowing with secret longing and repressed sexuality. Played by Julie Andrews in Robert Stevenson’s Mary Poppins.

Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. Huppert is perfectly stunning in this look at a woman’s sexuality. There’s no nudity in the movie!

Jane, Michelle & Elizabeth, mother and daughters played by Brenda Blethyn, Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer in Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing. A very funny and totally heart-wrenching journey into the personal insecurities of a family of four women.

Gretta, played by Anjelica Huston in John Huston’s The Dead. After an entire movie sitting on the back burner, Gretta opens her mouth in the last scene and turns upside down the world of her marriage.

Sally, played by Jane Fonda in Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. The education plot is my least favorite kind of plot but the movie is terrific and doesn’t preach, and Jane Fonda is electrifying as the politically naïve wife of an officer, who falls for a paraplegic war veteran and pacifist. Can be seen as a companion piece to The Official Story, directed by Luis Puenzo and featuring a perfect performance by Norma Aleandro as an Argentinian woman unaware that her adopted child is the daughter of a woman kidnapped and executed by government forces—to which her husband belongs.

Millie & Pinky, played by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in Robert Altman’s 3 Women. The two loneliest souls in the world.

Vienna & Emma, mortal enemies played by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar. Most nuclear wars will be nothing compared to the confrontation between these two.

Marie, played by Caroline Ducey in Catherine Breillat’s Romance. This one you’ll just have to rent.

Tracy, played by Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne’s Election. Anal, desperate and ambitious. You go, girl!

Agnes, Karin & Maria, sisters played by Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ulmann in Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. The passions of two women tending to their dying sister. Brutal and beautiful.

Emmi, played by Brigitte Mira in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. A middle class German woman is shunned by her family after she becomes romantically involved with a working class Turkish immigrant half her age.

Elin & Agnes, played by Alexandra Dahlström and Rebecka Liljeberg in Lukas Moodyson’s Show Me Love. A masterpiece of teenage longing and anxiety, but without gloom. Simply takes you back. Truthful to the bone.

Dora, played by Fernanda Montenegro in Walter Salles’s Central Station. Dora makes a living writing letters for those who can’t read and write, then throws the letters away behind their backs. She thinks of herself as being beyond all illusions—until life comes knocking on her door.

Carmela, played by Edie Falco in David Chase’s television series The Sopranos. Hours and hours and hours of fascinating stuff from the very bourgeois Soprano wife and mother. God bless her.