I used to post foreign film reviews on the now defunct Examiner.com. I’ll start to make some of those reviews available here to preserve them online.
If you’re in the mood for a big, fun, campy, stylish, melodramatic potboiler with world-famous actresses artfully shooting fish in a barrel, I direct you to 8 Women (Huit Femmes) (France, 2002), Francois Ozon’s Agatha-Christie-meets-Douglas-Sirk-via-Knots-Landing-with–musical-interludes extravaganza. It starts as a standard Poirot-like murder mystery (who killed Marcel in the bedroom with the knife?), and works its way across endless scandals and revelations to finally conclude with a nice twist ending (also textbook Christie) that’s surprisingly dark.
Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) is home for the holidays to visit her parents, Marcel (Dominique Lemure, in the Kevin Costner ‘Big Chill’ role) and Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), her grandmamy (Danielle Darrieux), her younger sister Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) and her spinster Aunt Augustine (Isabelle Huppert). In their employ are the beloved cook Chanel (Firmine Richard) and the new maid, Louise (Emmanuelle Béart). After the family exchanges early pleasantries, and Suzon performs a quick ‘Grease’-like ditty about how clueless her fuddy-duddy Papa can be, Louise is dispatched to awaken M. Marcel and deliver his breakfast tray. After the requisite blood-curdling scream, the women discover that Marcel’s been murdered, the phone lines have been cut, the car won’t start, and the front gate has been blocked. Quel horreur! Arriving soon afterward, having received a mysterious phone call, is Marcel’s black-sheep sister Pierrete (Fanny Ardant), and we have our full complement of suspects.
Of course, each has a reason to see him dead; each has a grave secret, or chequered past, that they cannot, but yet must, reveal; each confides in, and then condemns, each of the others; and each gets a silly non-sequiter musical episode that illustrates their general character while completely stopping the actual plot in its tracks. Mon dieu, someone’s pregnant! Zut alors, someone’s having an affair! Incroyable, there are lesbians in this house! Ozon smartly keeps the proceedings irony-and-wink-free; each of these thespian amazons fully commit to the hothouse intrigues, whispered conspiracies and free-flowing estrogen mania. They play it all straight, trusting M. Ozon to wrap things up in a pleasantly vinyl package. Mlle. Ledoyen is criminally charming, and Mme. Huppert shamelessly chews the scenery as the Gatling-gun-neurotic eccentric-but-sympathetic aunt. Fanny Ardant oozes woman-of-the-world slinkiness, and the legendary Mme. Darrieux displays impressive gravity, wiggy-ness and humor as Gaby’s maman. Mlles. Beart and Sagnier don’t get a lot to do early on, but rise to the occasion in timely fashion. And Mme. Richard acquits herself well with perhaps the best song of a disappointingly generic bunch.
It’s refreshing that, in the face of lame celeb-fests like whatever Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson are phoning in these days, these French icons are literally eating scripts like this alive. They know exactly how silly this stuff can be – they use that as an excuse to work all the harder, rather than take their fans for granted and cash the check. Where else can you see Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant making out on the living room floor? On screen or at home, this movie is highly recommended viewing for a lightweight and deeply goofy refresher course on Pros At Work.