Saturday, April 13, 2013
Based on the play Huit Femmes by Robert Thomas, 8 Femmes is a who-dun-it set during the Christmas holidays at the French countryside as a matriarch, her mother, her sister, her two daughters, her two maids, and her sister-in-law are all suspected of killing the man of the house as they’re force to reveal secrets and in song. Directed by Francois Ozon and screenplay by Ozon and Marina de Van, the film is a mixture of the colorful melodramas of Douglas Sirk with the mysteries of Agatha Christie with a bit of the musical told in the film. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Danielle Darrieux, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, and Firmine Richard. 8 Femmes is an exhilarating yet entertaining genre-bending film from Francois Ozon.
The film is essentially a quirky take on the who-dun-it that mixes suspense, comedy, melodrama, and the musical all into a mish-mash of fun where eight women ranging from different ages and such all try to figure out who killed the man in the house as they’re all suspects. Throughout the film, family secrets are unveiled as tension come ahead between the eight women in the story as well as an act of defiance from the two maids who are upset over the way things are handled. Adding to the chaos is the unexpected visit of the man’s sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant) as she helps stir the pot where she and the seven other women start to figure out who did what as they also sing a song in turn to express their own feelings and such.
The screenplay by Francois Ozon and Marina de Van definitely takes it time to play with the expectations of a who-dun-it as they also explore the dysfunctional relationship between this group of women as it involve the man’s wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), her uptight sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), her wheelchair-bound mother Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), and her two daughters in Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier). Then there’s the two servants in the longtime cook Madame Chanel (Firmine Richard) and the new chambermaid Louise (Emmanuelle Beart) as they observe everything while they become suspects over their motives and some secrets that they carry. Eventually, more secrets are unveiled as well as clues into who killed the man known as Marcel. The screenplay also plays with the structure of the suspense where it does give one character a reprieve of sorts as she is no longer a suspect allowing the others to figure things out.
The screenplay also plays into many things such as equality, homosexuality, and repression as these eight women all want something just as they are all dealing with themselves and their relationship with Marcel. The songs that are chosen for the film for each character reveal a lot into who these women are as well as what they have to say. It also helps play into some of the emotional aspects of the story that adds a layer to the melodrama.
Ozon’s direction definitely recalls a lot of the visual motifs of Douglas Sirk in terms of staging and framing as well as the meticulous attention to detail in every set piece. From the way Ozon creates an atmosphere in his framing to how he is willing to let things loose in the humor and drama. Even in the musical moments where some of it is choreographed while some of it is presented in a simple manner. Ozon does use some unique framing devices to present these musical numbers in the way he place the actors in a frame or have them be in the background for someone’s musical number with the help of choreographer Sebastian Charles. There is something intoxicating to the way Ozon presents the film as it plays as a theater piece but also take his time to subvert these moments for everyone to play loose. Overall, Ozon creates a very delightful and compelling who-dun-it that is presented in song and in humor.
Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie does exquisite work with the film‘s colorful cinematography to create a sense of beauty as a lot of it is shot inside the house where Lapoirie uses some gorgeous lighting schemes for some of the musical numbers as well as the dramatic moments. Editor Laurence Bawedin does excellent work with the editing to capture some of the intensity of the drama and the rhythm of the musical numbers. Production designer Arnaud de Moleron and set decorator Marie-Claire Quin do amazing work with the set pieces with its attention to detail in the carpets and the presentation of the main room as it is definitely a highlight of the film.
Costume designer Pascaline Chavanne does brilliant work with the clothes as Chavanne designs a lot of specific clothing for each women to wear to display their personalities. Sound editor Benoit Hillebrant does nice work with the sound to capture some of the sound effects in the film to help maintain the air of suspense. The film’s music by Krishna Levy is wonderful for its lush orchestral score that recalls some of the sweeping musical styles of Bernard Herrmann. Music supervisors Amelie de Chassey and Delphine Mathieu do fantastic work with the selection of the songs as they go for pop for the songs sung by Catherine, Suzon, and Louise as well as more mid-tempo pieces for Gaby and Pierrette while Antoinette, Madame Chanel, and Mamy are given ballads.
The casting by Antoinette Boulat is marvelous for casting a great array of actresses to appear in the film as they span countless generations and periods. With Dominique Lamure only making a brief appearance as Marcel though he doesn’t show his face, the film definitely belongs to these women. Ludivine Sagnier is wonderful as the youngest in Catherine who is full of energy while Virginie Ledoyen is superb as the older sister Suzon who is carrying a secret of her own while dealing with all of the family chaos. Firmine Richard is great as the family cook Madame Chanel who is the most reserved character of the group as well as the one person who knows more than everyone else. Emmanuelle Beart is remarkable as the chambermaid Louise who is quite defiant in her role while having some secrets of her own as it concerns Marcel.
Danielle Darrieux is excellent as the family matriarch Mamy as a woman who claims she couldn’t walk as she’s often full of lies as well as being greedy. Fanny Ardant is amazing as Pierrette who makes a surprise visit to the house as she is definitely someone in a bit of control as she also has a real standout moment with her musical number. Isabelle Huppert is brilliant as Antoinette who represents a woman who is uptight and repressed as she is the most dramatic as well as being very funny. Catherine Deneuve is just divine as Gaby as a woman dealing with all of the chaos while facing herself and her own troubled relationship with her husband.
8 Femmes is an incredible film from Francois Ozon. Armed with a brilliant ensemble cast of some of France’s finest actresses as well as amazing technical work. It’s definitely a film that plays to the who-dun-it genre while doing it in song to create something that is full of joy and goes all out to entertain. In the end, 8 Femmes is a phenomenal film from Francois Ozon.
Francois Ozon Films: See the Sea - Sitcom - Criminal Lovers - Water Drops on Burning Rocks - Under the Sand - Swimming Pool - 5x2 - Time to Leave - Angel (2007 film) - Ricky - The Refuge - Potiche - In the House - Jeune & Jolie - (The New Girlfriend) - The Auteurs #33: Francois Ozon
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