8 Femmes (Eight Women)
directed by Francois Ozon
(USA, 2002)

Well, if the phrase "French farce" sends shivers down your spine, skip to another review. If 8 Femmes is anything, it's an off-the-wall melange of theater, musical and period piece in which the murder-mystery plot is tossed out the window.

Who killed wealthy Marcel? His wife? Mother-in-law? Lover? Daughters? Sister? Who cares? Who watches 8 Femmes for its Agatha \Christie-like plot? Nobody.

We're watching for Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux and others in an ensemble of French actresses that's by turns passionate and just plain weird.

Francois Ozon, who directed the film Swimming Pool, which got its share of rave reviews, pulled together in 8 Femmes a homage to the actresses in it and to some who are not. An updated stage performance, 8 Femmes takes a creaky old plot, adds some more modern scenes (like Deneuve and Ardant in a passionate roll on the floor) and puts it all out there in a production that looks like an advertisement for the early days of Technicolor.

The only man in the whole thing is Marcel, who's discovered dead at the start of the film. The women in his life, snowbound in their lavish chateau, wonder who among them stabbed Marcel in the back. They all, of course, have just cause. And they all, of course, have so many skeletons in their closets it's a wonder they haven't tumbled out before now.

Most of 8 Femmes is a steady flow of scenes with Deneuve & Co. chewing the scenery and imitating each other's mannerisms, interrupted by musical numbers. Accusations rival betrayals, and everyone pretty much either "comes out" as a lesbian or proves willing to consider it momentarily in exchange for part of the inheritance.

With a group of lesser-known faces in 8 Femmes, no one would give the film a second look. But it's the history of these women, on- and off-screen, that gives it much of its humor. Not to get into spoilers, but there are some jarring revelations that, if taken literally, are way too uncomforable to fit in a movie like this.

8 Femmes is campy, costumy and full-out-French, with cast members who obviously relish playing off each other. With some pretty well-translated subtitles paving the way, it may be a respite you've been looking for during blockbuster season.

It's not often you'll get a brief cameo by the late Romy Schneider this time of year.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 29 November 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.