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aka - 8 Femmes
France 2002
Directed by
Francois Ozon
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

8 Women

Synopsis: The setting is the isolated country home of a wealthy bourgeois who has been found murdered in his bed. There are eight women in the house and everyone of them is a suspect.

There's a well-established tradition in the theatre of stacking a production with film stars and sitting back as the public queue up to get close to their screen idols. 8 Femmes is essentially based on this premise. Although the goddesses are back on celluloid this is very much presented as filmed play (the original was a minor 1960s work by Robert Thomas) - part Agatha Christie-style whodunit, part Almodovaresque sex farce - much of the action shot straight onto a set built to create the impression of an open stage (one even hears the actresses footsteps as they walk across the boards). And then of course there's the final curtain where the cast line up across the screen in tacit acknowledgement of our approval.

And approval it has certainly had in France - who could resist a roll-call like this - Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, and Virginie Ledoyen as well as la grande dame, Danielle Darrieux, and a couple of names not so well known, at least outside of France. The pleasure here, and this is very much about scopophilic pleasure, is in watching these familiar faces go through their paces. Despite being an ensemble-piece, Isabelle Huppert stands out in a comic variation on her character in The Piano Teacher - a seriously neurotic sex-starved spinster in school marm-ish mode. The rest of the cast are all excellent and will reward your time (particularly if the idea of watching Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve in a hot sapphic clinch appeals).

As with this sort of confection you must be prepared to give yourself up to the intended spirit of entertainment for, despite the heavyweight cast, in other respects, this is lightweight. The plot is but a vehicle for the performances and the dialogue is unremarkable (and with 8 characters and in sub-titles, hard work for the non-French speaker to follow) but to lighten the load, Ozon has each of his characters break the narrative with a musical interlude. For my money, and acknowledging that this may be a culturally-biased judgement (the songs were already popular hits in France and not written especially for the film), this is an only-sometimes successful device (Catherine Deneuve cannot jive, let me tell you) and it is questionable whether the film might not have been better without them. But then they're all part of the tongue-in-cheek fun.

On the other hand, this is a gorgeous-looking film, and not just because of the beautiful women. The opening titles, with each actress's name appearing with an individual bloom shot on a monochromatic background, are stunning, and the image quality throughout, with Ozon carefully framing his shots and using many close-ups of the actresses flawless faces, is reminiscent of the irresistibly chocolate-box look of Hollywood "women's films of the 50s like Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind.

Despite its limitations I suspect that in years to come 8 Femmes will be appreciated as a quirky little time capsule showcasing a cross-section of some of the biggest names in French cinema of the past few decades.




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