3 November 2007 | marissas75
8 stars for 8 Women
In the simply uncategorizable French movie "8 Women," successful businessman Marcel is found stabbed to death in his bed. Whodunit? Was it his wife (Catherine Deneuve) or his estranged sister (Fanny Ardant)? Or his mother-in-law (Danielle Darrieux) or his sister-in-law (Isabelle Huppert)? Or one of his daughters (Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier)? Or his longtime cook (Firmine Richard) or his new housemaid (Emmanuelle Béart)?
The movie, however, is less concerned with the murderess's identity than with giving these 8 actresses the chance to show off, in a series of campy, funny, melodramatic scenes. To that effect, there are countless catty remarks and catfights. The revealing of progressively more outrageous family secrets. Lesbianism, twisted love triangles, chic couture wardrobes, transformations from ugly duckling to swan. And, last but not least, musical numbers. The action stops for each woman to dance and sing (usually in a breathy untrained voice) a pop song that reveals her character's emotional state. It's a bizarre mix, but you'll find yourself laughing through your incredulity.
Faced with eight such talented actresses it feels rude to single out individual performers, but Huppert's portrayal of the embittered spinster Augustine steals the movie. Every one of her line readings is distinctive and hilarious, making this abrasive, histrionic character an absolute delight to watch. Almost as good is Ardant, playing a surprisingly likable free-spirited bad girl; because her character has no shame, she's at least honest when all the other women tell lies.
The lesser-known Firmine Richard gets one of the best musical numbers with "Pour ne pas vivre seul" ("So as not to live alone"), and Sagnier, who was in her early twenties when she filmed the movie, very convincingly plays a bratty 16-year-old.
All of the actresses' roles allow them to satirize their own or others' personas: Béart sends up the "seductive French maid" stereotype; Ledoyen is costumed to look like Audrey Hepburn but her character is no girlish innocent; Deneuve plays a variation on her customary chilly, glamorous bourgeois matron. Meanwhile, grande dame Darrieux cuts loose in the role of a meddling, lying grandma.
"8 Women" is thus more than just a comedy-mystery-musical: it's a witty postmodern comment on movie genres, movie stars, and three generations of French divas. It has a healthy sense of its own absurdity (indeed, how can anyone take this Agatha-Christie-type mystery seriously anymore?) yet all of the actresses are fully committed to telling this ridiculous story. Certainly one of the strangest films I've ever seen, it also--unlike so many serious and earnest modern movies--reminds me of why I love the Technicolor screen and its great actresses in the first place.