Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  Aug. 14, 2002 at 4:26 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Rarely has a movie so clearly emphasized the differences in European and American cultures as the new French film "8 Women." In Europe it is titled "8 Femmes."

God only knows what the picture will be titled in Lapland. In any case it deals with eight women under one roof under suspicion of murder.

One might assume "8 Women" would be a taut story of homicide in a gothic 1950s mansion brimming with high melodrama and a frightening plot. But no! This is a FRENCH film, and there's nothing in the memory of the oldest moviegoers with which to equate "8 Women."

It's an entirely new movie genre: a murder-mystery-musical-comedy. You heard right.

No, it's nothing like a female version of Mel Brooks' current Broadway hit "The Producers" wherein comedy and musical intrigue make for great hilarity.

To begin with, "8 Women" offers eight delightful Gallic actresses playing off-beat, bitchy roles, all vying for attention and laughs. The cast reads like a who's who of French leading ladies, past and present: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.

Most surprising of all is Dannielle Darrieux, France's No. 1 glamour girl and femme fatale of the 1930s.

Now a well-preserved 85, Darrieux makes a tres handsome grandmother -- Mamy -- in "8 Women." She sings impressively in her musical solo.

Darrieux also provides one of the film's comedic highlights when she is conked on the head with a brandy bottle wielded by her outraged daughter Gaby (Deneuve).

Deneuve then shoves the unconscious wheelchair-using Mamy into a dark closet to keep her annoying presence out of sight.

Try imagining a sweet old grandmother in a Hollywood movie being crowned with a whiskey bottle for laughs.

Although the eight women, ranging in age from Mamy down to teenager Catherine (Sagnier), are members of a closely related family, excepting two servants, they absolutely hate each other, masking their feelings with phony affection.

It's all about money and greed.

The story begins with the stabbing death of the family patriarch, Gaby's father. All of the women have a motive and opportunities to commit the homicide, and each one of them is suspect at one time or another during the course of the film.

Like vultures, they all want to inherit the dead man's fortune, which is largely illusory.

Ergo, audiences are treated to observing women of various ages, temperament and looks at their very worst.

There is not a single male to be seen throughout the picture, including the corpse. Truly, this is a chick flick from beginning to end, but men may be coaxed into theaters to see the plethora of good-looking French women on display.

Three of the actresses are knockouts, beginning with Deneuve who, at 59, still is a ravishing beauty. Beart, who starred in "Manon of the Spring" (1987) is an absolutely gorgeous treat as the insolent chambermaid Louise.

Virginie Ledoyen, 26, plays the refreshing, sexy, eldest daughter of Gaby, who almost steals the picture.

There are a few unsettling moments in "8 Women," one of them is a passionate (clothes on) love scene between Gaby (Deneuve) and Pierrette (Ardant) who is her sister-in-law.

A sexy/comic scene finds the petulant Louise (Beart) plunging a hypodermic needle into the bare, plump behind of Augustine (Huppert), Gaby's sister.

This movie of good-looking women behaving badly had to be the brainchild of a man. And such is the case. The culprit is Francois Ozon, best known for his film "Water Drops On Burning Rocks."

One would hope a woman writer/director would have given her female characters a softer, more compelling morality than Ozon has done.

But why did Ozon choose to mix some good entertaining musical numbers with a string of farcical capers and slapstick action involving a crime of passion?

Actually, Ozon wanted to make a French version of the classic Hollywood movie, "The Women."

But he was frustrated in this when he learned that Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan own remake rights to the film.

Says Ozon, "I discovered '8 Femmes,' a 1960s crime play ... I've tried to strengthen the humor, deepen the characters, and add complexity and modernity to the rivalries and family problems among the eight women.

"I wanted to make a comedy combining a classic crime thriller with Agatha Christie-like intrigues, in a closed environment where the murderer is among the group.

"Underneath this surface, I wanted to paint light and amusing reflections on femininity, actresses, class struggle and family secrets."

The result is a unique if disquieting movie, one that is liable to baffle American audiences.

But movie buffs alert to "different" film fare may well applaud "8 Women."

It's a hit in France.

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