8 Women (8 Femmes)Thursday 28 Nov 2002
Directed by François Ozon, starring Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Danielle Darrieux, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard, Dominique Lamure.
Gathering together the crème de la crème of French acting womanhood, director François Ozon has created a stylised homage to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie, the musicals of Denis Potter and the melodrama of Douglas Sirk - it's just a pity that he couldn't have made it more engaging.
In a 1950s French country mansion, a family, gathered together for Christmas, is horrified to discover that the only man in the house, patriarch Marcel (Lamure), has been stabbed to death. Conveniently isolated from the outside world by snow, a sabotaged car and cut phonelines, the killer can only be one of the eight women in the house: Marcel's wife Gaby (Deneuve), her mother (Darrieux) and sister Augustine (Huppert), two daughters Suzon (Ledoyen) and Catherine (Sagnier), Marcel's sister Pierrette (Ardant), and the two family servants Louise (Béart) and Madame Chanel (Richard).
Based on an old play, '8 Women' is deliberately stagey and the majority of the film takes place in one room as the characters deliberate over Marcel's killer as a diversion from telling their life stories, revealing guilty secrets and getting involved in catfights. This, of course, is when the women are not taking the opportunity to burst into song at the drop of a lighting cue.
Ozon is visually accomplished. The film looks like it was shot in glorious Technicolor and every carefully composed scene is saturated with vivid colours, which are also used in the elaborate costumes. From the lighting to the hairstyles he makes sure that no note of reality intrudes. Ultimately, however, this also has the effect of making the whole ridiculous melodrama rather wooden. The plot - such as it is - takes its time in unfolding and, once you're finished marvelling at the couture and the cast, it feels like a long time until all the different revelations and situations resolve themselves into a neat ending. It might be clever but '8 Women' is all style and very little substance.