by Josh Smith & r & & r & Nine Lives & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & riter-director Rodrigo Garcia has made a film that is difficult to watch. Not because of poor writing, miserable acting or horrible cinematography -- in fact, quite the opposite. Nine Lives is a shining jewel of storytelling, acting and filmmaking. Garcia has served up nine short stories of different women, each told in a single continuous take from 11 to 14 minutes long. Nine times Garcia allows us to peer into the lives of his characters until we are forced to duck beneath the window. We then walk away and spend the rest of the day wondering what, if, and why? The ending of the initial story was so abrupt, I jumped in my seat as suddenly the screen cut to black.

While there is no meta-narrative to hold the piece together, each tale is the story of someone who is trapped -- by the pasts, by relationships, or by bad choices and bad luck. A woman who comes across a former lover. A woman and her husband confront an uncomfortable truth between them. A woman in prison. Why are they where they are? Who are they? How does it all fit together? Garcia traps us with the unknown. Every word, every gesture becomes important as it may hold some clue to better understand each woman in the brief time we get to know her. To further that end, Garcia has assembled a strong cast that includes Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Amy Brenneman, Kathy Baker and Aidan Quinn.

The DVD has several interesting but ultimately unsatisfying featurettes. Also included though is a question-and-answer session with the Garcia and several actors at the Lee Strasberg Theater which, while it might not answer all our questions, at least provides more insight into the project.

In one segment, Aidan Quinn's character explains the editing of a nature program in a way that also describes Garcia's assembling of video fragments: "They put the pieces together to tell a story. Or they put an animal in the way of another so they can film the action. It's all a confection." Certainly Garcia has manufactured a delight, delicately constructed, meant to entertain and intended to be savored piece by piece. (Rated R)

Golden Harvest: Flour Sacks from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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