8 Women (8 Femmes)

on September 20, 2002 by Wade Major
While musicals are generally considered an almost exclusively American movie genre, there have been noteworthy exceptions, with two of the best, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and its pseudo-sequel "The Young Girls of Rochefort," hailing from the mind of famed French director Jacques Demy. Now, nearly 40 years later, another French director has seized upon the genre to produce the delightful musical-comedy-mystery-satire "8 Women (8 Femmes)."

Adapted from the Robert Thomas play and directed and co-written by the endlessly versatile François Ozon, "8 Women" enjoins eight of France's finest actresses in a giddily amusing Agatha Christie-style whodunit in which each of the leads is also given the added chore of breaking into song once during the proceedings. Naturally, where eight women are involved, the murder victim must be male--and so it is here with the man of the house, Marcel, offed in the middle of the night. Potential suspects include his disenchanted wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), his conniving sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant), his two daughters, Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier), Gaby's shrewish sister, Augustine (Isabelle Huppert) and their indecipherable mother (Danielle Darrieux), the housekeeper, Mrs. Chanel (Firmine Richard) and the very sexily suspicious chambermaid Louise (Emmanuelle Béart).

There are, of course, a host of contrived circumstances that force the women to stay put in the house, thereby insuring the appropriate level of character combustion that audiences expect from such scenarios. Still, it's Ozon's love for the artifice of it all, as well as the obviously farcical implications of the exaggerated plot, that make the picture so much more fun than might be expected of a more commonplace genre piece. Not only is nothing what it seems, but nothing is even remotely what it should be. The surprises are broad and extreme, with each outlandish turn of events followed by either an entirely inappropriate musical number or an even more outlandish twist.

Because the original play was written and situated in the '60s, Ozon has seized on that era's design scheme to give the film a unique look as well. Smothered and slathered in pastel pinks and reds, chiffon and taffeta, "8 Women" almost tastes like candy, evoking smiles at every turn.

A double winner at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival, where it captured an ensemble acting award for its stars as well as the coveted Audience Award, "8 Women" is nothing if not delightful, though its quirkiness and borderline camp qualities may not necessarily translate the world over. Regarding the integration of the songs--French classics mostly from the '60s--many will invariably be reminded of Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You," though the added enjoyment of actually recognizing the songs will be lost on all but French audiences and diehard Francophiles. Such caveats should be considered minor distractions, however, in an overall burst of creativity that few other comedies, American or French, can match. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard. Directed by François Ozon. Written by François Ozon and Marina de Van. Produced by Olivier Delbosc and Marc Missonier. A Focus release. Musical/Mystery/Comedy. French-language; subtitled. Rated R for some sexual content. Running time: 110 min

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