Culture Vulture: Oui! 'Femmes'

By CLAUDE SALHANI  |  Oct. 1, 2002 at 10:02 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- François Ozon's new oeuvre, "8 Femmes," (8 Women) is an absolutely must-see cinematographic wonder. I will even go so far as to predict that it will take - no, make that, steal -- hands down -- the Oscar for best foreign film at next year's Academy Awards. And if it were eligible for the best movie Oscar, it would win that one, too. But alas, Hollywood has yet to grant its coveted top award to a foreign film.

(Instead, the current trend is to remake good French films into English ones with homegrown casts, as they did with "Three Men and a Baby," "La Femme Nikita," and "The Bird Cage -- La Cage aux Folles.")

The setting for "8 Femmes" could not be more idyllic: a classic, richly decorated, country residence, somewhere in the French countryside. And the cast could not be more wonderful; it includes the crème de la crème of France's womanhood that spans several generations of actresses -- the very best that country has to offer. It reads as a who's who of beauty, elegance and dazzling talent.

"8 Femmes" is far from an original story. It's the sort of situation that both Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie's famed Belgian sleuth, Hercules Poirot, have already come across numerous times, and which neither would have too much difficulty solving in the allocated time a movie runs. This is, after all, the traditional crime mystery plot -- a crime has been committed and there are only a handful of suspects (or in this case, eight), each with her own motive to commit the misdeed. Elementary, my dear Watson, is it not?

But as they say in such cases, the plot thickens. As the investigation advances, we discover hidden truths about each character -- truths they would have rather kept buried, along with the cadaver. Really nothing unique. It's a sort of Col.-Mustard-with-the-candlestick-in-the-drawing room-did-it, type of plot. But the big difference here, is the exceptional acting -- and occasional singing -- by the all-woman cast.

The story is, quite naturally, that of the eight astonishing women (and one man, whose face we never see. In fact, he is so banal to the story, that even his name, Marcel, could hardly be more common.) The lives of these women revolve, in one way or another, around the ill-fated Marcel. In case you had any doubts, he is the victim. Don't fret, as I am not about to reveal anything that will lessen the mystery surrounding this film, which has more than one twist.

Anyway, the women's lives are intricately interconnected, in more than one way, around Marcel, a supposedly rich industrialist who is found stabbed in his bedroom, in the opening minutes of the movie.

Among the suspects are his wife Gaby portrayed by the sumptuous Catherine Deneuve -- still cutting an outstanding figure at 59 years of age, his daughters Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier), his mother-in-law Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), his sister-in-law Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), his sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant), the cook Madame Chanel (Firmine Richard) and the cute little housemaid, Louise, magnificently played by Emmanuelle Béart.

Enough drooling for the moment, and back to the plot: There is a cadaver in the bedroom, the women are isolated in a snowstorm, the telephone is dead (but of course) and, naturally, one of them has to be the culprit. But which one? They all loved dear Marcel so much. Ah, but beware the wrath of a woman scorned!

As mentioned earlier, there is nothing original, so far. This is simply a delicious cinematographic version of one of those fun-to-play detective board games that one engages in on a rainy day.

"8 Femmes" is a stage play (written by Francois Ozon and Robert Thomas) brought to the big screen. But when, on stage, would you have the chance see such outstanding talent, all in one place?

What gives this film its pizzazz is first the exceptional cast and its dazzling performance, and then the way each of the eight women gets to perform one song. A mystery-musical, you may ask? Well, sort of done in the "Moulin Rouge" way.

Needless to add more -- go see it, you will not be disappointed. How could you with such a star-studded cast?

(The Culture Vulture is a column written by UPI's Life & Mind editor, and reflects on current trends, issues and events. Comments may be sent to

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