“ Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 2002 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Francois Ozon / Actors: Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen ... / DVD released 2008-01-21 at Pathe Distribution / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, PAL „
* Prices may differ from that shown
Eight beautiful, outstanding French actresses singing and dancing in colourful, elegant costumes, stunning location, sexual tension, flashbacks, drama, comedy...is this the French equivalent of "Nine"? Hardly, since "8 Women" was actually released years ago, but there are some odd similarities that become apparent. It's about a man and his complex relationships with women, lots of women, lots of complicated, scheming, manipulative, seductive women. The all seem ordinary at first. But we get suspicious because they're too perfect. Sort of like the street and people on "Desperate Housewives." They are all so properly dressed, say the right things and are incredibly polite to each other. There are things that aren't being said to one another, secrets buried deep down within their flawless appearances and no doubt there is plenty of tension in the air.
In a delightfully over-the-top murder-mystery setting, this seemingly light-hearted motion picture starts with a severe snowstorm in Christmas that leaves an isolated house in the countryside completely cut off from the outside world. The phone stops working, and because of the thickness of the snow that has settled outside the house, it is impossible for anyone to leave. It's simple: no one is going anywhere. They have gathered to spend the holiday together, but no such luck. Trapped in the house are the eight women the title is referring to, and Marcel, the man who is found murdered in his own bed, a knife stuck to his back. There are eight suspects. The eight women. His wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), his mother-in-law Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), his sister-in-law Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), his eldest daughter Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen), his youngest daughter Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier), his sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant), his cook Madame Chanel (Firmine Richard), and his new chambermaid (Emmanuelle Béart). They all look just as innocent and guilty as one another. The news of the bloody murder shakes them all up and accusations start flying across the room. Nobody is safe, because every single one of them would have had something significant to gain out of Marcel's death. "One is guilty...which one?" the trailer asks us. Good question, and the shocking answer doesn't arrive until the very end.
This is where all the interesting character developments start to build up. The women open up about their true relationships they shared with the victim and their confessions start to confuse us even more. They quite often sing their feelings and although the tunes are not at all catchy the actresses have no trouble singing them. They sing sometimes with passion, with joy or with some added camp qualities that are suitable for the emotions they are portraying. It's definitely strange seeing singing and dancing numbers in a murder-mystery but director François Ozon makes it clear throughout that this is not a dead-serious thriller. There is plenty of humour, thanks to some great over-the-top performances that intensify during the right moments. The actresses scream, laugh and cry in such a delirious manner that the laughs keep on coming. None of it is unintentional of course, since the deliberately absurd and somewhat random tone is there to add something unique and sexy to the grim setting involving murder.
Although the pretty atmosphere and frothy location makes this feel a lot more trivial and somewhat easier to watch, the many sub-plots that are slowly revealed turn this into something a lot thicker and more complicated than the premise makes this out to be. Darker, more twisted stories come to life as themes of lust, incest and homosexuality are further addressed, with an unexpected set of sexual, perverse and deceptive intentions laid out by the women. With flashbacks they show their hidden past, which makes the characters become more and more unpredictable. No matter how far-fetched some of the events may be, no matter how unrealistic it may be that a group of equally messed up individuals came together and formed a family under a single roof, it's oddly intriguing and endlessly fascinating. As Ozon goes through each character one by one, we anticipate more excitement, more tension, more over-the-top farce, and that is exactly what we get and Ozon never disappoints.
Out of the eight exceptional performances, it is hard to pick out a few for special mentioning. They are all brilliant, magnetic and have been perfectly cast. The talented actresses were all justly awarded for their effort, winning the Berlin Silver Bear as well as the European Film Awards for the category of Best Actress. The thought of Deneuve clacking her heels together, dancing to a chirpy tune should be cringing on paper but in reality is surprisingly delightful. Huppert is the convincing outcast/loner who longs for someone's love. Ardant has no trouble oozing ambiguous sexuality and her musical sequence shared with Deneuve is one of the film's most eccentric yet disturbingly erotic moments. The chic looking Béart is flawless as the quiet but predatory and duplicitous maid. Ledoyen and Sagnier are cute on surface as the two youngest members in the household but once again, not everything is as it seems. Richard is also a fine inclusion to the cast and Darrieux is the wheelchair-bound but head-strong matriarch of the family. No one is sane, everyone clashes with one another, and that's what makes this so fun to watch.
Some of the singing isn't dubbed too well, and the special mix of genres (comedy, drama, musical, thriller, murder-mystery) will not be an immediately agreeable experience for some. The hyperactive energy and the kinetic pace that comes along with it may feel inappropriate but it's that quality that makes this so appealing, a breath of fresh air that is as bonkers as it is enjoyable. "8 Women" is a truly rare experience that should not be missed.
8 Women (8 femmes) is a feisty French whodunnit written and directed by controversial director François Ozon, featuring eight of France's finest leading-ladies.
The cast includes screen-legends Catherine Deveuve and Fanny Ardant, alongside the beautiful Emmanuelle Béart and sophisticated Isabelle Huppert. For fans of French cinema it's a rare treat to see such a high calibre of actors on screen at one time.
The film is set in the 1950s, in a country house in the dead of winter and sees a family being re-united by the return of the daughter Louise (Béart). Within minutes the man of the house, and the only man we see (or don't really see), is found dead. Suddenly each woman becomes a suspect and it's not long before the women turn on each other and the secrets start to spill.
The film is part drama, part comedy and part musical (yes you heard correctly) and as the story develops there is revelation after revelation and twist after twist. The humour is as dark as the plot and the film is a really eclectic mix.
Being new to Ozon's work, I watched a few other of his films (including Swimming Pool and X2000), but for me this is definitely the best of the bunch.