Here’s yet another reason why the French rock: their movies are always, always, refreshing. Let’s take 8 Femmes (2002) for example. The movie centers on the inhabitants of a mansion tucked away in a town in France. One day, the man of (and only man in) the house, Marcel, is suddenly found dead. The phone line has been cut, all forms of transportation has been made impossible, and heavy snowfall has made leaving the house out of the question. It is up to the eight women in the house- Marcel’s mother-in-law, wife, two daughters, chambermaid, cook, and sister- to discover the identity of the murderer. All they know is that the murderer is among them. Everyone has a motive, and everyone is a suspect. In their quest for the truth, skeletons in the closet come pouring out.
At first, I thought 8 Femmes was your typical whodunnit movie like the mystery classic Gosford Park, but I should have known better. The French are incapable of producing “typical,” how could I have forgotten?
For one, only the French can turn a murder mystery into a musical comedy. Auteur Francois Ozon has skillfully made a movie that is all at once thrilling and funny. In many ways, 8 Femmes is like a Hitchcock film. Everyone looks like they belong in the pages of Vogue. The perfectly coiffed hair and the haute couture are highly redolent of Grace Kelly in Rear Window and Kim Novak in Vertigo. The shocking turn of events (They are never quite what you expect!) are reminiscent of the handicraft of the master of suspense as well– the grandmother is discovered to have murdered her husband years ago, the dead man’s wife is having a torrid love affair with her husband’s nemesis, the sultry chambermaid has been the dead man’s bedfellow for five years, the dead man has impregnated his own daughter.
Then there’s the element of comedy. Just when you think you can no longer take the suspense, the cast bursts into a song and dance number, making you laugh so hard you get a serious case of bellyache. The dialogue drips heavily with sarcasm, but the actors deliver their lines so effortlessly you wonder if the French really talk that way. Clues are disclosed and ravaged like juicy gossip. Asinine twists, like the disabled suddenly walking and then nonchalantly attributing this event to a Christmas miracle, will surprise you. Also, amidst death in the family, everyone either gets a makeover or is liberated sexually.
Quotable Quote: “Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux.” (There is no happy love.)
What I like best about the film: (1) The set looks like a theater stage, creating the illusion that you are watching a play. (2) Catherine Deneuve and Emanuelle Beart are luminous! (3) The ending, which I think is very French.
Rating: 8 Femmes is often absurd, but I think it is precisely this absurdity that makes it a genius of a film. It is what makes it singular in its beauty. There is really quite nothing like it.