Film Reviews


By • Sep 20th, 2002 •

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Focus Features / Rated R (some sexual content) / Running time: 113 minutes. / In French; subtitled.

An absolute hoot!!! A soap opera with intimations of sexual perversity. A period piece filled with mystery, malice and mayhem. A melodrama. A comedy of manners, good and otherwise. All of the above, plus a musical. Not since George Cukor’s The Women burst onscreen in 1939 has there been an all-female film filled with such downright bitchiness, juicy vitriol and acerbic humor to slake just about anyone’s thirst for wit and sarcasm. Or bloody murder.

But lest we get carried away, a few words on The Plot: ‘Twas a dark‘n stormy night. Time: Christmas, circa the 1950s. Place: An isolated family manse (a la Gosford Park) in the French countryside, inhabited by the eponymous 8 damsels, distressed because the household patriarch is found stabbed to death. Problem: The estate gates are blocked by snow, the phone wires cut, they can’t get help, and early on, realize one of them did it. But who and why?

Everyone has a motive, from grandma and her progeny down to the two family retainers—be it sexually or financially inspired. Or both. And like caged animals, the octet spend the rest of the film cattily clawing at each other, liberally thrusting barbs and parrying insults and accusations that would make any musketeer blush. Of course, there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing down to the finish. (Not to worry. I’ll never tell.)

Sound familiar? Indeed, yes! 8 Women is part Robert Altman, part Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express, et al), with some Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Noel Coward drawing room dialogue and Vincente Minnelli technicolor musicals thrown in for local couleur.

Each member of this award-winning ensemble cast—which includes some of French cinema’s most legendary and beautiful stars {see above listings}—belt out songs of a half-century ago, whose lyrics serve as soliloquies that limn their innermost thoughts and attitudes. (Hamlet couldn’t have done it any better.)

How Ozon, the young director (2000’s Under the Sand), pulled off this multi-genre/multi-generational feat—of meshing the rarified ensemble on-and-off camera with an esprit de corps—is an amazement unto itself. But he did. (According to the film’s notes, the production was a love fest. Though their combined salaries elsewhere—i.e. in a major Hollywood flick—might have paid the national debt, and any of the stellar cast might have easily warranted special handling, none was required, and egos and indulgences were totally absent during the shoot.)

Perfectly dressed and coifed in the style of the fifties to reflect their characters’ social status, the ladies let it all hang out, hanging wildly and comically loose as geese in their diverse portrayals. Each is unique and a blast to see in action. Upstairs: there’s the aged malcontent (Darrieux), mother of the victim’s bourgeois wife (Deneuve) and frustrated old maid sister (Huppert); Deneuve’s two young daughters, one just back from college in England (Ledoyen) and the other, a spirited teenager (Sagnier), whose love of detective fiction impels her to single-handedly try to solve the murder; and the victim’s black sheep sister (Ardant), a hooker swathed in red, who could have given Rita Hayworth’s Gilda competition. Downstairs: the two servants, the beautiful new maid (Béart) who just doesn’t look or act like one; and the longtime nanny (Richard), who’d raised the two girls from infancy, but whose private life is a big unknown.

What a motley, malevolent, money-grubbing crew. You might not particularly like them, but they all have great style, filled with chic and chicanery. Plus, they’re great fun to watch. And almost everyone has some deep-rooted secret that isn’t revealed till the very end.

It’s worth the wait.

Only caveat: It’s a talky film, so be prepared to pay full attention as the ultra-witty English translation flashes fleetingly across the screen.

Awards to-date: The cast won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for the Ensemble of Actresses, and Ozon was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival.

Director: François Ozon;
Screenplay: Francois Ozon;
Screenplay Collaborator: Marina de Van;
Producers- Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier;
Photography-Jeanne Lapoirie;
Orig. Music- Krishna Lévy;
Editor-Laurence Bawedin;
Set Design-Arnaud de Moléron; Costume Design: Pascaline Chavanne;

“The Family”:
Danielle Darrieux (Mamy), Catherine Deneuve (Gaby), Isabelle Huppert(Augustine), Virginie Ledoyen (Suzon), Ludivine Sagnier (Catherine), Fanny Ardant (Pierrette), Dominique Lamure (Marcel);
“The Domestics”:
Emmanuelle Béart (Louise), Firmine Richard (Madame Chanel).

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