8 Women
review by Paula Nechak, 6 September 2002

27th Toronto International Film Festival

French director Francois Ozon surfaces from the thematic sea of ghosts, middle age and denial of his elegant Under the Sand (Sous le Sable), with a fluffy bon bon temptation titled 8 Women. Here is hommage to Sirk and Cukor and the over-saturated Technicolor melodramas of the '50s and '60s - with a touch of the essence of The Parent Trap sifted over the souffle for a treat. And what a souffle of actresses line this cake pan: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Danielle Darrieux, Virginie Ledoyen, Firmine Richard and Ludivine Sagnier form the ensemble and a great deal of the joy of the film is in watching the French cinema's reigning elder stateswomen shed their imperious diva-esque masks and shake, rattle and roll instead.

The women sing, swoon, sway, spar and sob through Qzon's demi-musical murder mystery, set in the requisite snowed in, desolate chateau and based upon a play by Robert Thomas - and the result is fluffy fun meshed with Agatha Christie that is more memorable for what it asks of its lovely octet and its ravishing fashion parade rather than substance.

Deneuve plays Gaby, a greedy, poised and perpetually raised-eyebrow matron who is celebrating the return of her oldest daughter Suzon (Ledoyen), from school for the winter holiday. The time is the late 1950's and the rules of propriety and morality are still in place; appearances mean everything. But behind the closed doors of the massive estate lie many secrets, thwarted desires, and - on the day of Suzon's return - the murder of the only man in the household, Gaby's husband Marcel.

Was the killer the housekeeper, Madame Chanel (Richard), the spinster sister-in-law Augustine (Huppert) or the saucy personal maid Louise (Beart)? Perhaps tippling mother-in-law Mamy (Darrieux) held the knife. Or maybe it was the dead man's slinky, wanton sister Pierette (Ardant), who has suddenly appeared out of the mist of the past wanting money. Or - just what if Marcel was murdered by his cool wife or one of his two daughters, Suzon or wily filly of a teenager, Catherine (Sagnier)?

The fun is in the frolic that ensues with secrets spilling over a mile a minute and innermost desires revealed to frenetic, comedic ends. And the extraordinary cast is game to try anything for Ozon, who complies by defrosting their veneers with relish and zest. 8 Women divided viewers and critics at the Berlin Film Festival with some complaining of the script's fusty and musty old fashionedness, slow pace, over-decor and slight ending.

But you'd have to be a crusty crab to take any of this seriously and one has to wonder if, after the exquisite Under the Sand which Ozon directed in 2000, the sniffing elite weren't expecting a more elusive effort from this woman-loving Frenchman. It should be remembered he's never been quiet over the fact that he adores Sirk and Cukor and there have been hints of stylized, tinted emotives in earlier films like Water Drops on Burning Rocks.

And you have to give him credit for giving great roles to women over 40. Charlotte Rampling turned in the performance of the year in Under the Sand and in 8 Women, icons Ardant, Deneuve, Huppert and Darrieux are released from their own corseted iconography and made strangely earthy and accessible in a film that pokes fun at their perceived image. It's a welcome sigh to find a film that celebrates women, despite heightening the gossipy, bitchy cliches. Ozon mines their beauty with campy humor and finds a little bit of soul, especially in Isabelle Huppert and Firmine Richard's outsider characters. Besides Todd Haynes upcoming Far From Heaven, which also bows to the Imitation of Life school-of-thought of Douglas Sirk, 8 Women, for its faults may be the closest we get to a contemporary "women's picture."

Directed by:
François Ozon

Danielle Darrieux
Catherine Deneuve
Isabelle Huppert
Emmanuelle Béart
Fanny Ardant
Virginie Ledoyen
Ludivine Sagnier
Firmine Richard
Dominique Lamure

Written by:
François Ozon
Robert Thomas
Marina de Van

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
or adult guardian.







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