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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: 8 Women (2002)

* * *

Director: Francois Ozon
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Ludvine Sagnier, Virginie Ledoyen, Firmine Richard, Danielle Darrieux

If you've ever wondered what a film that doesn't take itself too seriously looks like, I highly recommend Francois Ozon's 8 Women. A musical locked room mystery featuring several of the most stunning and celebrated stars in the history of French cinema, this is an extremely fun, albeit slightly silly, romp.

The eight women in question are Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), her two daughters Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludvine Sagnier), her mother (Danielle Darrieux), her sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), her cook Chanel (Firmine Richard), maid Louise (Emmanuelle Beart), and her sister-in-law Pierrette (Fanny Ardant). Trouble begins shortly after Gaby returns home from picking Suzon up at the train station when her husband, Marcel, is found dead in his bed with a knife in his back. As the women take stock of the situation - the dogs made no noise during the night, suggesting that he was murdered by someone familiar, and the phone line has been cut - they realize that one of them may be the killer - and may not be finished.

Pierrette, who has allegedly been estranged from her brother, shows up a little while after all this, claiming to have received a mysterious phone call about her brother's death. When the women attempt to leave to get the police, they find that they're trapped on the estate, and as their various secrets start coming out, they begin to turn on each other as each woman begins to look like a more likely culprit than the last. In the end the solution to the mystery is simultaneously simpler and more complicated than anyone could have suspected.

From the first frame, Ozon aims to throw the audience off guard with the film's almost aggressive artificiality. The snow covered exterior is just a little too Hollywood perfect and even the inside of the house has the unlived in polish of a set. This works because Ozon and the cast so fully embrace the off-kilter, unreality of the project and that in turn makes the transitions into the musical numbers seem a little smoother. Each actress gets a musical number to perform, most of them fairly silly but certainly fitting with the film's frothy, fun tone.

All eight of the actresses are really great, but if I had to pick any one as the stand out, it would be Huppert. She brings a great comic energy to the film as the spinster aunt with a few dramatics up her sleeve, who eventually transforms herself into a more confident and glamorous self after getting a bit of advice from Louise. Huppert, Ardant and Darrieux all received Cesar nominations for their performances but, as I said, all eight actresses are great, each bringing a different strength to the piece. All in all, 8 Women is an absolutely delightful film.


thevoid99 said...

This was my first introduction to Francois Ozon just before I saw Swimming Pool and what an intro. I had seen Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven I think weeks before that on TV and then saw this film. Then came the music which threw me for a surprise and I got really into it. Now, I'm a big Ozon fan though I haven't seen all of his shorts and some of his recent films. Still, I find this one to be his most entertaining with all of the actresses giving top-performances and can all sing. My favorite music performance comes from Ludivine Sagnier.

Norma Desmond said...

It's sort of shocking that 8 Women and Swimming Pool come from the same director - both are good movies but they're so very different.

My favourite musical performance was Fanny Ardant's.