An affectionate, sophisticated parody of Technicolor melodramas and musicals of the 1950s -- with a some mock-Agatha Christie thrown in for fun -- Francios Ozon's ironic, estrogen-overloaded "8 Women" is a cinema-couture candy whodunit, full of frivolous twists and frothy performances.
Set at a snowed-in country chateau in France where the man of the house has been found dead with a knife in his back, the artificially stylized film (sets are deliberately soundstagey, Dior-inspired costumes pop with color, characters are mock-'50s stereotypes) traps all its impeccably attired suspects in the house together (The phone line's been cut! The car has been sabotaged!) and slowly reveals each of their deep, dark secrets to fuel whimsical paranoid conjecture.
Could the killer be the man's well-bred bourgeois wife (Catherine Deneuve) who was never all that fond of him? How about their chic, beautiful, ostensibly virginal elder daughter (Virginie Ledoyen) or her tomboyish teenage sister (Ludivine Sagnier)? Perhaps his live-in mother-in-law (Danielle Darrieux) -- who had been faking the need to use a wheelchair for reasons unknown -- did it?
Then there's the high-strung spinster sister-in-law (Isabelle Huppert), who was secretly in love with the victim, and his own long-lost bad seed sister (Fanny Ardant), who seems unduly amused by the catty amateur theatrics taking place in the wake of the murder. And let's not forget the secretly sapphic housekeeper (Firmine Richard) with a mysterious connection to Ardant, and the sexpot new maid (Emanuelle Beart) that the dead man was diddling on the sly.
Compounding their knowledge that the murderer is among them are the false alibis each woman has given for the time of the murder -- all of which are soon exposed, in part because all eight women fancy themselves amateur sleuths. This is especially true of coy, cunning Ledoyen, who delights in pacing the living room, hands clutched behind back like the trench-coated private eyes she's seen at the movies.
The performances from this French A-list cast couldn't be more finely tuned, with each actress over-playing her part enough to compliment the film's farcical framework while infusing each character with just enough sincerity to garner sympathy, even for the most catty and contentious of them.
With his melodrama entrenched and his tongue firmly in cheek, Ozon ("Sitcom," "Water Drops On Burning Rocks") infuses "8 Women" with intentionally, humorously superfluous musical numbers as well -- some torch-singer tunes, some rock'n'roll, some salsa-inspired -- complete with corny, cantering choreography. Fanny Ardant even does an homage to Rita Hayworth's striptease from "Gilda." The movie's most over-the-top moment is a catfight that turns into a lesbian kiss, which gets a laugh but pushes Ozon's parody beyond its 1950s "women's movies" inspiration and conspicuously into the realm of cheap women-in-prison flicks.
But from the film's silly, period-thriller score to Ozon's casting of the clearly 20-something Sagnier as an doe-eyed 14-year-old to the excessively vivid, Technicolor-mimicking costumes, makeup and set dressings to the far-fetched twist finale, "8 Women" is capriciously clever, warmly wry and sure to amuse cinefiles and fans of Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, director Douglas Sirk, "Sunset Boulevard's" Norma Desmond and other icons of 1950s theatrical immoderation.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th September 2002
Box Office USA: $3.0M
Distributed by: USA Films
Production compaines: Delux Productions, Kasander & Wigman Productions, Continent Film GmbH, Movie Masters, Woodline Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 98 Rotten: 26
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Francois Ozon
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