Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia is best known to discriminating television fans not only for his work on the splendid HBO series "Six Feet Under," but for a movie that was shown on Showtime, "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her." An omnibus of five loosely interlocking stories about several women facing turning points in their lives, "Things You Can Tell" featured a cast of stellar actresses and announced a promising talent in Garcia.

"Nine Lives," Garcia's new film, delivers on that promise, an achievement all the more admirable for the fact that he has returned to the same format and themes of that earlier work. "Nine Lives" finds nine women in extremis, all facing various versions of mortality. In tight, sharply written scenes -- each a continuous take lasting between 10 and 14 minutes -- they come to terms with death, loss, connection and continuity. The moments that Garcia has chosen to observe are unforgettable, the women -- played by an ensemble of actresses at the top of their respective games -- indelible.

Most memorable are Robin Wright Penn as a onetime party girl who runs into a former lover at an L.A. supermarket; Kathy Baker, whose feisty character is moments away from a mastectomy; Sissy Spacek, as a wife and mother on the verge of an affair; and a supernaturally radiant Glenn Close, whose vignette, the movie's final scene, delivers a quietly devastating blow. The beauty of "Nine Lives" is that its occasionally overlapping stories feel entirely unforced; Garcia's is a filmmaking style of rare lyricism, compassion and discretion.

-- Ann Hornaday

"Nine Lives" stars Robin Wright Penn (with Jason Isaacs) and a talented ensemble of actresses.