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8 WOMAN,2002
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8 WOMEN8 WOMEN, 2002
Movie Review

Directed by François Ozon
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Danielle Darrieux, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard
Review by Federica Vettor

SYNOPSIS:

In 1950s France, a family gathers in an isolated countryside mansion to celebrate Christmas together. Soon, we discover that the family’s patriarch, an affluent businessman, has been mysteriously murdered in his bedroom. Left are 8 women: his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law, his two daughters, his sister, as well as a loyal housekeeper and the newly appointed maid. With the telephone lines being inexplicably cut, the car sabotaged and a snowstorm further isolating the mansion from the outside world, the 8 women are left in an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere of dark doubt: who amongst them is the murderess?

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REVIEW:

François Ozon is without a doubt one of France’s most interesting contemporary directors. With incredible freshness, a quality that can be quite rare amongst French filmmakers, he has been dedicating himself to varying genres, boldly bringing ever so diverse projects to sparkling life. With “8 femmes”, the film which possibly marked his international breakthrough, he brings us his very personal interpretation of the homonymous play.

Ozon’s “8 femmes” turns out to be a very idiosyncratic choice for a film director, as it essentially remains rather a play than a film. In a strong ‘parti-pris’, later brought to further extremes by Lars von Trier in “Dogville”, Ozon sticks to a theatre stage as his set. The unity of place and time is upheld throughout the film, which is completely stripped of any filmic effect, and shot in a very basic, frontal, static style.

Therefore, there’s not really much to be appreciated as far as all usual assets, tools and eye-candies of modern filmmaking are concerned.

Reduced to its bare essence, and evolving around a linear and simple storyline, the film is left to rely on the performances of its actresses, as orchestrated by their director. And amazingly, that is more than enough.

With the only male presence being dead and invisible, “8 femmes” is a feast of femininity. It does help that Ozon has managed to recruit some of France’s most captivating actresses – be they well-established or promising – for his project.

Catherine Deneuve is perfect in portraying the dominant yet deeply repressed wife of murdered Marcel; Ludivine Sagnier successfully transforms herself into an edgy teenager; Emmanuelle Béart brings shrewd sexiness to her role, whereas Danielle Darrieux is her usual grande-dame, albeit here with more than a touch of self-irony.

Although Firmine Richard’s and Virginie Ledoyen’s performances remain slightly underneath the standard set by the rest of the cast, they nevertheless add interesting personal touches. But it’s definitely Isabelle Huppert and Fanny Ardant who – in completely different ways – steal the show. Isabelle Huppert plays the hysterical sister-in-law, and aside from indulging in a very theatrical humour, she brings interesting depth and complexity to the character of a lonely and broken woman. Fanny Ardant, on the contrary, delivers a very powerful portrait of a dangerously seductive ‘femme fatale’.

The compelling performances are further enhanced by utterly delightful dialogues, and the bold introduction of surreal musical interludes – one for each of the 8 women.

As the story gains momentum, these very different characters – each one of them representing different facets of the female soul – collide and conspire, progressively revealing repressed dreams and hidden fears, deep longings and dark secrets. While old conflicts and allegiances unravel, the tension mounts, and it quickly becomes a strident counterpart to an increasingly claustrophobic and suffocating atmosphere, to which the surprising ending does not provide any relief.

There is definitely a nostalgic nod to Agatha Christie here, but with a refreshingly French twist: François Ozon signs a remarkable artistic experiment that can be highly recommended for a captivating taste of something different.


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