Runtime: 111 Minutes
Director: François Ozon
Writer: François Ozon
Stars: Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard, Dominique Lamure, Isabelle Huppert
By Caz Armstrong
François Ozon’s “8 Women” (2002) is a locked-house murder mystery whodunit with over the top caricatures who fling around accusations and burst into song. It’s ultra-theatrical and it’s brilliant.
Based on Robert Thomas’s 1958 play “Huit Femmes”, the film is set in the 1950s in a snow-bound French manor far from help. As the family gathers for Christmas the patriarch Marcel (Dominique Lamure) is found murdered. Of course nobody can contact the police or get out through the snow. The murderer is amongst them and they need to figure out which one of them it is.
In the grand tradition of Agatha Christie, each of them has a motive and each of them could have committed the crime. As the accusations fly so do the revelations. Jealousy, affairs, greed, secrets and lies all come tumbling out until the final shocking reveal.
The cast is made up of a stellar ensemble including Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart and Danielle Darrieux who starred in over 110 films in her 80-year career. Each of them plays their own eccentric character with all the gusto of a grand theatrical performance.
This dark comedy-drama is based around a man’s murder, and he’s the reason why the women are all together. But this is a film about women. Marcel does not actually speak and nor do we see his face. It’s refreshing because it’s not rare to see this kind of gender balance in favour of men. The drama is punctuated by musical numbers which represent the characters’ inner thoughts and desires. Some are twee and silly, some are surprisingly poignant.
“The cast is made up of a stellar ensemble including Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart and Danielle Darrieux who starred in over 110 films in her 80-year career.”
They do break the narrative flow but it works. It’s a comedy-drama after all and we’re not supposed to take it that seriously. A bit of coordinated swaying or spot lit burlesque is the cherry on top of a film that’s already hilariously over the top.
The 1950s styling is on point. All elements of the costume were created from scratch using original 1950s fabrics and materials. Every glove, hat and shoe was built or sewn, not bought. Each character’s costume has its own bold colour theme which adds to the theatrical look of the film. In the theatre the characters are harder to distinguish from afar so bold choices helps the audience to follow who’s who.
“This film is a fun, snarky, dark murder mystery with perfect casting, stylish costume, and musical numbers to boot. Get your friends over and open the prosecco for a night of hilarious silliness.”
Even on film, with eight women having equal screen time colour coding them it makes it easier to follow although that benefit is more of a by-product.It also gives each character their own symbolism. From milder old-school pastel, to fresh innocent new green, or passionate red. There are also a few costume-change based character reveals.
Amongst all of the accusations and revelations of 8 characters it can get a bit difficult to follow each person’s story. This was not helped by being an English-speaker following the French subtitles. But this kind of film is about guessing, red herrings and plot twists. If you could remember every one of the facts you learn it would probably hinder more than help the experience.
I also felt that one of the character revelations was actually a bit much. There are people for whom that specific aspect would be quite upsetting. It is a small point and is quite unnecessary for the overall plot which makes it a little more awkward that it’s there.
This film is a fun, snarky, dark murder mystery with perfect casting, stylish costume, and musical numbers to boot. Get your friends over and open the prosecco for a night of hilarious silliness.