8 Women

8 Women

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Imagine yourself in an expensive restaurant, no luxury spared, yet every colour startlingly lurid, borrowed from a 1950s US sitcom. Imagine sitting down there and eating a desert so incredibly sticky and sweet that you want to throw up, yet recognising also that it is the best made, most subtly delicious dessert you have tasted for years, something which only the French would be able to create. This is 8 Women, and you will love it, loathe it, or both. Critically dismissed as a trivial indulgence, it's actually a remarkably clever piece of cinema, and one of the best translations of stage musical to screen for a long time.

Of course the camera never moves beyond the perspectives of the central protagonists, of course it never reveals more of their world - most of the time, you'd think it was trapped in the drawing room, which is precisely the desired effect. The story makes reference to many outside events, but is innately claustrophobic, thus mirroring the experiences of its unseen central protagonist (the man whose death his eight female relatives are trying to come to terms with, whose murder they are trying to solve) whilst simultaneously making an affectionate comment on the nature of French cinema.

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Many people will find this film's high camp approach intimidating, as with some of the musical numbers (of which there are quite a few, the early ones flippant, the latter ones traditional seductive chansons with deliberately inappropriate lyrics); this, and the very audacity of presenting farce in modern cinema, dare the audience to flee, but to do so would be to miss a real gem. 8 Women brings together some of the classiest actresses in the world, and they are all superb; despite the melodrama, they manage to bring real emotion to the story, making it moving when one might least expect it.

This film is also interesting as the first collaboration between director Ozon and the actress who went on to become the craze of Cannes in Swimming Pool. The younger performers are clearly inspired by their distinguished company, and it'll be interesting to look back on their work here in years to come.

There is a strong undercurrent of tragedy in this frantic comedy, strengthened by (though not dependent on) references to some of the stars' previous films. Some critics have protested that the whole thing comes across as deeply misogynist - that it is inappropriate (in the current political climate?) to depict these women as so focused on money, power and one-upmanship. Yet there is a certain respect for women shown in allowing them to be vicious, overbearing, weak and lonely, rather than in putting them on pedestals and pretending they're all perfectly dull. Instead, we have powerful chemistry between Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve in a film that does its trivial thing with real aplomb.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
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8 Women packshot
Eight women, one body and a house full of lies.
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Jennie Kermode ****
Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Francois Ozon

Writer: Francois Ozon, Marina de Van, based on the play by Robert Thomas

Starring: Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Emmanuelle Beart, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard

Year: 2001

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

Festivals:

EIFF 2002

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