9 Days with Cambria is sold as an experiment in character development and storytelling. It tells the story of a young woman by the name of Cambria, who was once raped by her boyfriend-at-the-time which led to their breakup and her worsened mental state. In more competent hands, this could have been an inquisitive work, but in the hands of directors Mike Klassen (Abolition) and Jason Armstrong, the final product is at best inconsequential and at worst deeply offensive.
The story of Cambria’s life is told in nine parts – all performed as monologues by nine different actors. By the second monologue, the film gives away its biggest secret: it has nothing to say and is instead coasting on a pointless gimmick. And, that’s not the only gimmick that ensues in 9 Days with Cambria. Unfortunately, there is nothing novel about any of the gimmicks which find their way into the film’s stylistic choices. These choices lend the film a look of an undergraduate’s ham-fisted work, which ends up matching the awkward performances. However, on rare occasions, viewers catch glimmers of competence from various actors. For those lucky to survive 9 Days with Cambria, let’s hope it’s all upward from here.
This can be all forgivable, of course: amateurish production values only open up the way for further improvement. What isn’t nearly as forgivable, however, is the film’s treatment of rape and rape victims. Cambria admits in the second monologue that her boyfriend had raped her and she attempts to put into words her complex feelings. Rape is a complicated situation, especially at the hands of a loved one, and the conflicting emotions take a lot of nuance to get right. Filmmakers Armstrong and Klassen are wholly lacking in the nuance department, which is why they, seemingly inadvertently, turn the boyfriend into a victim in the third monologue and practically canonize him in the eighth.
There is a difference between conflicting emotions and having your protagonist call her rapist a good person: the latter does not walk a fine line but falls right into the puddle of rape apologia. It is, of course, no better that the writers of these monologues are a couple of men who come off as completely tone deaf throughout: while the monologues are meant to come off as natural and realistic, with cinematic aesthetics of a documentary, the artifice that is lent them by words and performance just makes the whole thing come off as corny and, again, disgusting.
This film will be split into nine parts and released weekly throughout the summer beginning June 27 on Skeleton Keys Films’ YouTube channel – my suggestion is to skip the series. Even in the rare cases where the performances are strong, everything else conspires against these nine women.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam