Cult Classics: 8 Femmes

8 femmes indexFilmed like a technicolour nineteen fifties Hollywood extravaganza, there are few films that are so delightful, unique, and consistently surprising to watch as Francois Ozon’s 8 Femmes. An impressive mix of genres, it’s a film that starts of as a seemingly conventional murder mystery but which soon becomes far more complex as each of these beautifully constructed characters reveals hidden depths.

It’s an initially nicely deceptive piece too even if 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 proceedings take a darker turn 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, and the film kicks up a gear.

There’s a definite feel of an Agatha Christie novel from this point on, 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. This leads the audience to discover that all of the eight women have secrets they wish not to disclose as well, which might be stretching reality a little but it’s such a captivating film you won’t mind in the slightest.

What really makes this an essential watch are the sumptuous performances from all of the eight women, with Ozon having put together a truly stunning cast. Catherine Deneuve as the frustrated and bored mother of the family is marvellous, her warmest performance in years, while Isabelle Huppert is in particular a revelation as the frumpy, uptight and sexually frustrated Aunt Augustine who undergoes an almost fairy tale transformation (though it’s far more realistic than this may suggest) during the film. Emmanuelle Béart, as the maid Louise stunningly smoulders throughout, and daughters Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) add an anarchic youthfulness to the story.

But what sets this apart from being a good but not great film is the fact that 8 Femmes is part musical, as every so often each character bursts in to song, and what songs they are too. From downbeat cravings for love, to jokey but ridiculously fun upbeat pieces, all are fantastic, and only Catherine Deneuve looks a little uncomfortable, but then it could be suggested that fits her character well.

Based on a play by Robert Thomas as with most theatrical adaptations it does sometimes feel a little claustrophobic, 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. Occasionally the script could have been a little tighter as well, but otherwise I’ve no complaints as it’s a film which truly is a joy to watch.

★★★★

Alex Finch.
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