8 Femmes – Francois Ozon alludes to anything and everything.
I’m not the only film viewer to see a nod to Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror as well as the more obvious ode to Technicolor, musicals, and of course to the Georges Cukor’s The Women. IN fact I would have to say this film shines in paradoy more than it does in the watching. I enjoyed thinking about the film and making my scant references than I did watching the film itself. The high colour and the caricatures sort of left me cold, but I wont tell anyone that, because the analysis was so much fun I am determined to claim i enjoyed every minute.
What an enormously strange film this is. I didn’t love watching it, but I am going to claim I really enjoyed it and like it. This for me sums the entire experience up. Everyone is so clever – so very very clever – that it is difficult to dislike something merely because it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. I know how silly that sounds, but its the best explanation I have.
The film is set in a large country house in the 1950’s where a group of women and their servants are together for Christmas. Even before you notice the colour, you notice the lineup. It’s the whose who of the best French actresses and that means these are just about the best in the world. Mistress of the house is Catherine Denuve, her frumpy sister is played by Isabelle Huppert, and their mother is Danielle Darrieux (remember her from that stunning French film The Earrings of Madame de…). It is Catherine Denuves husband (Dominique Lamure) who is fdound dead with a knife in his back. He is also father to Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier, two seemingly adoring daughters. AS the film progresses all the women in the house are accused of killing him including Fanny Ardant, the victims wanton sister, character actress Firmine Richard (the house keeper – Madame Chanel, a name chosen as a another tribute) and Emmanuelle Béart, the chambermaid who gifts a little on the side. The women will all accuse and confront each other through arguments, defences and most bizzarly, songs.
Yes, everyone gets a number from Béart singing about her affair with the master of the house to Ledoyen who uses a song to reveal her fathers sexual abuse and her pregnancy at his hand. Odd doesn’t really begin to describe it and I’m sure when I tell you It is really funny, you’ll think me a complete monster. However, despite the cries of misogyny (the women are really grotesque caricatures) there is an overwhelming sense of affection for every woman in the cast. No one is singled out to play a villain except, of course, the deceased. By the end you’re getting the feeling you wished you’d stuck the knife in his back.
And this film is colourful. I mean colourful. It is a tribute to Technicolor, even if it never quite makes it into the largeness of that. It tends to come across at times like a well matched handbag and shoes rather than a breakthrough moment in cinema. Its chic (well Denuve is) AND kitsch (quite a remarkable feat really) and in true Ozon style, oh so camp. For all his love of his characters there is a chilly detachment that overrides all Ozon films that gives the film that left of centre feel that is true of so many musicals. So here it is perfectly placed.
I have to include a very witty paragraph in here from The Henry Sheehan review:
That Deneuve would dominate this group is no surprise. That she continues to hold the center against the remaining cast is a bit more surprising. Isabelle Huppert, simultaneously her generation’s greatest and most eccentric raw talent, plays Gaby’s “old maid sister” (the movie’s designation). Huppert acts as if she were the deranged offspring of Agnes Morehead and Jerry Lewis, devouring the neon-bright Technicolor scenery until it shines out of her eyes like death-ray high beams.
As much as I adore Isabelle Huppert (easily my favourite actress) I did think this performance was odd, and at times it does seem she has contracted ADD from the intense colour. Yet, in true French fashion she and Fanny Ardant are the most applauded and lauded for the film which gathered awards and nominations everywhere it went.
So in the end I’m sort of back where I started. I can’t tell you why, but I did like this film, and I do recommend it. Just don’t take any drugs with it, and your experience should be positive.