8 women (2002)


director: francois ozon

catherine deneuve, fanny ardant, isabelle huppert

When you watch a star-studded period murder mystery/musical like Francois Ozonís 8 Women, the temptation to say that they donít make movies like this anymore is easily dismissed by the fact that no one ever made a film like 8 Women.

The story is simple: a man is found murdered in a snowbound mansion. The phone line has been cut, and the prime suspects are the eight females stranded inside with the body. Thereís his beautiful, dignified wife, his glamorous ďfallen womanĒ of a sister, his daughters, mother- and sister-in-law, and two maids, one of whom was his mistress. Imagine an estrogen-primed game of Clue, without Colonel Mustard or any other male in sight.

Ozon managed to get practically every major female star in France for the film, starting with Catherine Deneuve as the haughty wife and Fanny Ardant as the vampy sister. He dresses them all in gorgeous Fifties couture, overlights the fussy sets, and gives almost every woman a motive, a flashback or two, and a song to sing. Thereís infidelity, blackmail, incest, lesbianism, and a final plot twist. The dominant tone is glorious excess and too, too much of everything, and that overloaded, top-heavy dynamic is primarily what sends the film teetering along down the rails of its deeply grooved plot.

Itís hard to figure out just how Ozon feels about the camp technicolor era in which 8 Women is set. His obvious affection for the kind of overlit, overacted trifles that, once upon a time, would have starred Doris Day or Judy Garland, is seriously undercut by a deliberate directorial sabotaging of the whole affair. There are moments where he seems to be trying a homage to Jacques Demy, the director of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, two famous but rarely-imitated Sixties musicals starring a young Deneuve. The songs, however, are melodically-challenged, and the strange hand-gesture choreography that goes with them jabbingly underscores the precious artifice of Ozonís film.

As for the cast, it often seems like there are eight different films happening at once, each iconic actress elbowing out a space on the screen. The winners are Deneuve and Ardant, which seems like a bit of a fixed fight, though Emmanuele Beart stakes out her territory with whatís nothing more than a non-stop sultry glare. For those brave souls who havenít been scared away already, you can find something or someone to watch at any point during 8 Women, and any man who manages to sit through to the end will find his deepest suspicions confirmed by a final musical number detailing the sorry fate of the male sex in a world ruled by women.