Sundance 2020 Reviews: Nine Days

In Edson Oda’s Nine Days, Winston Duke plays something quite like a visa officer. Except you go to him to be born, not to be an immigrant.

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Unlike his role in Black Panther, Duke’s character here, Will, is an uptight man. This is actually literal: he does up the highest buttons on his shirts. We see him with Kyo, an Asian who might or might not be his friend. But he’s clearly his coworker.

As part of his job, Will watches a series of conjoined TVs. All of them are first-person videos of people living, all of whom have passed through Will’s interview stages. When one dies, it is Will’s job to interview a new set of souls for the opportunity to be born. The film really gets going when the latest set of souls comes through.

Will asks a series of questions and although he says there are no wrong or right answers, he is clearly taking notes and judging the interviewees character. (As I said, he is quite a visa officer.)

You might think that in the time-honoured tradition of Hollywood, the uptight man becomes unbuttoned at some point. You might be right, but Oda’s film is not necessarily a film about a character changing, as it is about probing the privilege of life. It might even be asking if living is indeed a privilege. Will once lived and from his TV diet, he appears to be believe that only a certain type of character makes it in life. What he forgets is that whether a person is bear or mouse, nobody makes it out alive. One of his interviewees (played by the radiant Zazie Beetz) will challenge his views.

Oda’s feature length debut is a deeply philosophic film that resists the heavy-handedness that its theme could easily provoke.

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