’8 Women’ is a celebration of females in cinema
François Ozon, the accomplished French director, is a visionary who loves spinning yarns with vivid characters and engaging plots. 8 Women, one of his greatest successes, stands as a humorous homage to the murder mysteries that Agatha Christie made popular.
As the story goes: There’s one murdered man in a luxurious country estate. There are eight female suspects. It’s going to be an interesting weekend.
The group of actresses brought together for 8 Women is truly extraordinary. The long list serves as a ‘Who’s Who’ of French cinema.
There’s the legendary Catherine Deneuve as the matriarch, Gaby. There’s the skilled Isballe Huppert as the jealous sister-in-law, Augustine. There’s the beautiful Fanny Ardant as the mysterious sister, Pierrette. There’s Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier as the mismatched daughters, Suzon and Catherine. There’s the unbelievably attractive Emmanuelle Béart as the new maid, Louise. Finally, there’s Danielle Darrieux as the grandmother, Mamy, and Firmine Richard as Madame Chanel, the one who oversees the estate.
The dead guy upstairs? That’s Marcel (Dominique Lamure), and the entire plot springs from his demise.
Like the great whodunnits from both Tinseltown and the Broadway stage, 8 Women relishes the chance to point accusatory fingers, sip brandy and wear fashionable dresses. The movie could almost be considered a filmed theatrical production, which is no surprise, being that the story is based on a play by Robert Thomas. The characters make grand entrances and exits. There’s only one set for most of the movie, and the acting style is big, flashy and dramatic.
I was half-expecting an intermission to come along.
Ozon is less interested in the mechanics of who actually committed the murder, and much more fascinated by the look and personality of the film. The interaction of the actors and the gorgeous scenery of the country estate make 8 Women essential viewing for film buffs who love their cinematic pictures with a little colorful finesse.
Deneuve and Ardant have the meatiest roles, and when they fight toe to toe (or kiss, lip to lip), 8 Women bubbles along at a fast clip. Huppert is also quite funny as the mousy sister-in-law who deep down wishes she had lived a different life. Béart is ravishing as well, balancing beauty and brains in several key scenes.
All of the women are let loose in Ozon’s sandbox and they have a great deal of fun. From the opening shots when Gaby and her daughters pull up to the estate to the final revelation of who actually killed Marcel, the director’s style oozes onto the screen. Occasionally, he lets his vision get the best of him, and at times it feels as if the characters meander a bit. At 111 minutes, it might have been better if the movie consisted of 6 or 7 Women, rather than 8.
If you’re looking for a murder mystery, it’s probably best to forgo this French fable. It stresses neither the murder, nor the mystery. If you’re looking for an homage to the style, fashion and sentiments of a bygone cinematic era, you have a date with eight very exquisite women.