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8 Femmes
2002 - R - 111 Mins.
Director: Francois Ozon
Producer: Olivier Delbosc
Written By: Robert Thomas
Starring: Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant
Review 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 Femmes, and you will love it or loathe it or, unaccountably, 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.
<p align=justify>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 Femmes 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. I cannot help but feel that they have missed the point by several miles. This is a film about love: several of the women have heartbreaking stories to tell, and their nature as survivors is ultimately what leads them to care for one another. There is surely more respect for women shown in allowing them to be vicious, overbearing, weak and lonely, than in putting them on soft-focus pedestals and pretending they're all perfectly dull. Instead, we have powerful chemistry between Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve; and there's Emannuelle Beart in very nice boots indeed. A very sensual movie, whose intrusiveness should be expected, whose warmth is something else.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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