review by Paula Nechak, 6 September 2002
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."
Marina de Van
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
or adult guardian.