8 Women (15)

Review by Jack Foley

SOME of the leading actresses in French cinema team up for this murder-mystery-cum-musical which is tremendous fun, despite its lavish excesses.

Directed by François Ozon and featuring a veritable who’s who of French female cinema, 8 Women is unlike any other film you are likely to see this year, in that it is a glorious throwback to the 50s-style Technicolor of the musical comedies of Vincent Minelli, set against the backdrop of a violent murder.

Set in a secluded country mansion at Christmas, the story finds the eight women of the title coming together for the traditional family celebration, only to find that the only man of the house, Dominique Lamure, has been stabbed to death in his bed.

One of them is a murderer, and each one has a possible motive, but with the phone lines cut and the snow making it impossible to escape, the women must find the killer before she strikes again.

Chief among the suspects is Marcel’s wife, Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), who stands to inherit the family fortune, but equally deceptive are the likes of his two daughters (Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier), his sister (Isabelle Huppert) and the grandmother of the house (Danielle Darrieux), who are all hiding guilty secrets.

And then there’s Emmanuelle Beart’s disobedient chambermaid, Firmine Richard’s seemingly trust-worthy housekeeper and Gaby’s acid-tongued sister (Fanny Ardant) to contend with - as no one is quite who they seem.

Much of the fun to be had is in trying to guess the plot twists as, one by one, each of the eight women emerge with a possible motive. Yet despite the serious nature of some of the accusations, the tone of the film remains light throughout, with proceedings frequently punctuated with bouts of singing (each character gets her own song and dance routine).

At first, such interludes feel a little distracting, but there are some musical numbers which work really well, while the actresses themselves seem to be having fun with the material.

Ozon, who also wrote the screenplay, has created an incredibly chic movie, complete with a wickedly barbed script, and he coaxes some terrific performances from his exceptionally talented cast.

Ardant is the pick of the bunch, as the sexually frustrated ‘ugly sister’, prone to all manner of verbal abuse, yet all are on form, with Beart typically sultry as the insolent chambermaid (and more than living up to her sex bomb status), and Huppert and Deneauve striking some pretty incendiary sparks off each other as the warring sisters-in-law.

The look of the film is also first rate, with the vintage feel working well to create a believable 50s setting, complete with resplendent wardrobes. It may not appeal to all tastes, but this is both a visual and acting tour-de-force which also engages the intellect.

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