More like slices of lives. This is nine short films, each a single 12-minute take. That sort of thing can be little more than a final exam exercise for film school key grips, steadicam operators, and focus pullers (some of the unsung heroes of nuts-and-bolts-filmmaking), but this is a lot more than that. I think it’s more like a sonnet. The poet sets himself the limitation of communicating a single emotion in 14 lines of iambic pentameter. He could write an epic, but chooses not to; he goes right to the heart of the matter. It was written and directed by Rodrigo García, the son of the Nobel Laureate writer Gabriel García Márquez, and he has the writing gene.
You start off thinking all these stories will tie together somehow, and you do see some characters from previous stories pop up in subsequent ones, but each really stands alone. The thing is, there is NO market for 12-minute stories, so stringing them together into an anthology is the only way they can be made.
It is an acting bonanza for women, and the cast is stunning: Amy Brenneman, Elpidia Carrillo, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Joe Mantegna, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Aidan Quinn, Amanda Seyfried, Sissy Spacek, and Robin Wright Penn. All of them are great. In a thing like this it is only natural that some stories will work better than others, and if you are looking for great resolutions, look elsewhere. These are moments in lives, and you are on your own to figure out what went before. Sometimes it is obvious and the reaction simple: a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she HATES it. Sometimes you are largely in the dark: a woman is in prison, her daughter is visiting and the phone doesn’t work. What has she done? We never know. But she is more than she at first seems. I recommend it highly.
One word about Dakota Fanning: I knew the little devil was good, and so smart she’s a little scary, and cute … but this one-take business is HARD for a child. It has to be relentlessly rehearsed, both by cast and crew. One missed mark, one flubbed line, and it’s back to the beginning. Any reasonably talented moppet actress can handle a ten-second take, the way movies are normally made. The film editor can enhance things to make the performance look better than it actually is. But to work with Glenn Close in a one-shot outdoor scene … that takes talent that is going to take her very far indeed. It is my prediction (or at least my hope) that she will join Reese Witherspoon as one of the select few who make the transition to adult acting.