For decades, “Rope” was considered a failure not only by critics and colleagues, but also by Hitchcock himself, who called it a pointless “stunt”. Even Donald Spoto, one of Hitchcock’s most important historians, has argued that the long takes in Rope contradict the “basic nature of the film itself”, although in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, he goes on to indirectly illuminate the film’s genius. It mentions “Perpetual Movement No. 1,” the song composed by Francis Poulenc, played on the piano by Philip (Farley Granger), an incarcerated man who committed murder with his lover Brandon (John Dahl), a la Leopold and Loeb. Philip’s former teacher, Rupert (James Stewart), suspects foul play and approaches Philip at the piano, turning on a lamp that serves as an interrogation light. His conversation with Philip goes round and round, thus echoing the recurring melody of the composition. Rupert then turns on a metronome that mechanically counts off the seconds until Philip inevitably spills the glass. “The song is appropriate, perhaps, not only because the camera is in perpetual motion throughout ‘Rope’, but because, ironically, the inner state of the main characters is in an endless cycle of only apparent motion, which itself is spiritual stagnation,” Spoto wrote.
This sense of stagnation is felt by all the characters in Nine Lives who find themselves trapped in situations that have stunted their growth. The morning after his latest film, Raymond & Ray, screened at the Chicago International Film Festival, Garcia took the time to talk to me not only about his new film, but also about Nine Lives. I told him that the last film demonstrated to me, more than any other, how a short vignette can have the same rich texture and deep impact as a feature film, which he confirmed was his ambition with the picture.
“You can say a lot in ten, twelve minutes,” Garcia said. “I see a lot of shorts, especially from younger people, who are impressionistic, but as long as you have the problem in the first minute, you have a lot of time.”
My favorite scene involves Robin Wright as a pregnant wife who runs into her ex (Jason Isaacs) at the supermarket. As they talk, they settle into the playful rhythms of their past courtship, strolling along paths that were built for couples to walk side by side. Yet the coziness becomes claustrophobic as Wright awakens to reality as if coming out of a trance. When Isaacs asks Wright for her husband’s name, she demurs, explaining, “If I tell you his name right now, I won’t know if I’m coming or going.” One aspect of the film that becomes clearer with repeated viewings is the way each woman’s story echoes in the surrounding vignettes. The first scene establishes the recurring theme of prison by focusing on a mother (Elpidia Carrillo) in prison.