out of Five
Running time: 103
Delightful film by Francois Ozon with a terrific cast – it’s like Gosford Park meets The Umbrellas of Cherbourg…
As the poster-designers for 8 Women have shrewdly realised, the audience-baiting appeal of the film resides in its once-in-a-lifetime cast that reads like a Who’s Who of French actresses. (If only it had been ‘Ten Women’ – there might have been room for Juliette Binoche and Beatrice Dalle. No, no, that’s just greedy).
Anyway, the good news is that the film more than justifies its starry line-up – it’s fabulously kitschy, extremely funny and positively brimming with joie de vivre. And, oh yes, it features Emmanuelle Beart in a French maid’s outfit. If you like that sort of thing.
The Plot Thickens…But That’s Hardly Important
The plot is based on a little-known whodunit by Robert Thomas, although, as with Gosford Park, it’s immediately apparent that the plot is not the primary concern of the movie.
The film is set in France in the 1950s. The eight women of the title gather in an isolated country house for Christmas. They include a glamorous mother (Catherine Deneuve), a wheelchair-bound grandmother (Danielle Darrieux, who has played Deneuve’s mother on three previous occasions), a neurotic aunt (Isabelle Huppert), two daughters (the lovely Virginie Ledoyen – from The Beach - and the not-especially-famous Ludivine Sagnier), Deneuve’s ‘scandalous’ sister-in-law (Fanny Ardant), the maid (Emmanuelle Beart) and the nanny (Firmine Richard).
Murder. Suspicion. Singing.
The only man in the house – Deneuve’s husband, who we never see - is murdered during the night and everyone is a suspect. Various secrets get revealed at a breakneck pace, left, right and centre and on top of that, everyone keeps bursting into song. In fact, the songs are set up so that everyone gets a chance in the spotlight and they range from bubble-gum pop (you’ll find yourself singing along to one of the songs almost immediately) to more serious romantic ballads.
The actresses are all excellent – impressively, everyone performs their own songs. (Emmanuelle Beart in particular should perhaps hold on to that day job). The costumes and colours are wonderful, too, evoking the lush 1950s Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk - in a similar way to the upcoming Far From Heaven, starring Julianne Moore, which was the Surprise Film at the LFF this year.
It’s fair to say that the film won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but if you surrender yourself to its infectious silliness, it’s extremely enjoyable. There are many great scenes –the pop-song; Isabelle Huppert descending the stairs, transformed in a spectacular ball-gown – but the undoubted highlight is the ‘lesbian wrestling’ scene between Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve…
Loud French Laughter
Another problem is that if your French isn’t up to scratch, you’ll have a nagging feeling that you’re missing out on a lot of the film’s jokes and nuances (be prepared for the French-speakers in the cinema to laugh loudly to prove it), but Ozon keeps the film rattling along at a decent pace so that you don’t mind too much.
In short, in addition to possessing a must-see cast of gorgeous French women looking fabulous, 8 Women is one of the most downright enjoyable films of the year and you’re guaranteed to emerge from the cinema either with a grin on your face or, in all probability, humming that infectious bubble-gum pop number. Highly recommended.