Filmed like a technicolour fifties Hollywood extravaganza, there are few films that are so delightful, unique, and consistently surprising to watch as Francois Ozon’s 8 Femmes. A real mix of genres, what starts of as a seemingly conventional murder mystery soon becomes far more complex, as each character reveals hidden depths. It isn’t strictly a comedy as there are several dramatic moments within the film, but there’s enough very funny moments for it to deserve a place here.
At first events feel a little lightweight, as Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) returns home from college in London, and the family pettily snipe at each other, but soon events become fare more complicated as Marcel, the father of the family, and only male in the house (and film for that matter), is found dead, with a dagger plunged in to his back. There’s a definite feel of an Agatha Christie novel here, as, after discovering that they have no way to contact the police, or escape the house, everyone begins to suspect everyone else, and all try their hands at playing the amateur detective, and soon discover that all of the eight women have secrets they wish not to disclose, but that inevitably are revealed.
What makes this a must see film are the sumptuous performances from all of the eight women. Catherine Deneuve as the frustrated and bored mother of the family, Gaby, is marvellous, her warmest performance in years, whilst Isabelle Huppert is particularly a revelation, as the frumpy, uptight and sexually frustrated Aunt Augustine who undergoes an almost fairy tale transformation (though far more realistic than this may suggest) during the film. Emmanuelle Béart, as the maid Louise, stunningly smoulders throughout, and daughters Suzon and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) add an anarchic youthfulness to proceedings. Simply put, there’s just not a bad or even less than great performance in the film.
But what sets this apart from being all too normal a film is the fact that 8 Femmes is part musical, as every so often in proceedings each character bursts in to song. From downbeat cravings for love, to jokey but ridiculously fun upbeat pieces, all are fantastic, and only Catherine Deneuve looks a little uncomfortable. Yes, perhaps not all of them were born to sing on the stage, but this only makes the songs feel more personal, and the characters more appealing. Based on a play by Robert Thomas, as with many theatrical adaptations it feels a little claustrophobic at times as the action rarely moves from the front lounge, bar a couple of scenes in other rooms in the house, but it’s so carefully shot, lit and filmed that this feeling rarely rears its ugly head. It’s just a shame that from time to time it does.
8 Femmes isn’t quite perfect, when it was released it was more likely to be in the lower end of critics top 10 lists of the year, as occasionally the script could have been a little tighter, but by the surprising ending you wont find yourself caring about those occasion slower moments. A joy to watch.