- Danielle Darrieux as Mamy
- Catherine Deneuve as Gaby
- Isabelle Huppert as Augustine
- Emmanuelle Béart as Louise
- Fanny Ardant as Pierrette
- Virginie Ledoyen as Suzon
- Ludivine Sagnier as Catherine
- Firmine Richard as Madame Chanel
A deliciously mounted film featuring a once in a lifetime cast of French actresses, 8 Women is part comedy, murder mystery and musical. With the skill at directing females of George Cukor, the melodramatic colours of Douglas Sirk and the cat and mouse mystery of Agatha Christie, François Ozon has crafted a highly enjoyable film that is a funny, homage laden and joyous tribute to those films that people say “They just don’t make them like this anymore”.
The setting is a wealthy country estate in the 1950’s. It is the middle of winter and the film begins upon the arrival of the sweet-natured Suzon. She is the daughter of the owner, the glamorous Gaby and her husband Marcel. Also occupying the house are the elderly grandmother Mamy, Gaby’s waspish sister Augustine, Suzon’s bookish sister Catherine, the pouting maid Louise and loyal cook Madame Chanel. All is well until Marcel is discovered murdered in his bed, a knife in his back. Sending shock waves though the house, each woman tries to figure out who committed the murder. The group becomes bigger by the mysterious arrival of Pierrette, the dead man’s sister and rumoured lady of the night. To make matters worst the weather halts any attempt at leaving the estate and the phone lines are cut so there is no contact with the outside world, it is soon deduced that the murderer is amongst the women. As the film progresses, skeletons begin to rattle in each character’s closet as the truth is neared. Who murdered the rich man? You’ll have to view the film to see the answer to that. What ensures is a fun-filled extravaganza of a film, that gives the eight talented actresses chances to flex both their comedic and dramatic muscles.
Francois Ozon firstly captures the decor and costume of the era, with lavish colour symbolising the hidden desires beneath alleged respectability. When the actresses burst into song it seems natural and free, not manufactured or tailored. Each actress is given a time to shine with the musical numbers, the highlights being Ardant’s sexy number in which she invokes Rita Hayworth glamour and Denueve’s slinky but mournful rendition. Even if the mystery angle doesn’t engross you in this pastiche, it is hard to fault the octet of talented women, who all turn in performances of great quality. Stealing the show is Isabelle Huppert as the highly strung and jealous matron Augustine, her presence reminds one of an angry wasp who instead of stinging attacks with vicious, acidic comments. This shows a funny side to Huppert and her unacknowledged gift for comedy. The grand dame of French Cinema, Danielle Darrieux adds class and humour as the secretive grandmother with a taste for drink and a penchant for lying. Catherine Deneuve gleefully sends up her ice maiden image as the glamorous mother Gaby, her catfight with Ardant a delightfully, melodramatic moment. Fanny Ardant sizzles across the screen as the unpopular Pierrette, who just can’t help but shake up things for the women during the investigation. The stunning Emmanuelle Béart has fun as the seductive chambermaid Louise, who resents her position within the house but is secretly guarding the nature of her relationship with the deceased. Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier impress amongst prestigious company as the daughters of the murdered man, Ledoyen showing a sweetness that masks an inner turmoil and Sagnier conjuring up the frivolous and boundless energy of her young murder obsessed character. Rounding out the cast is Firmine Richard as the loyal cook Chanel, bringing a dignity to her loving character.
Despite referencing many other genres and filmmakers, Ozon’s film retains originality in the execution of it. It is very hard to think of a recent film that balances a multitude of themes, stars and genres and emerge so successfully in the process.If you haven’t viewed this frothy pastiche to the 50’s and sleuthing crime novels, I advise you to as there isn’t in a film in my memory that is like it.