Saturday, August 19, 2006

Film Review--8 Women

I enjoy Francois Ozon’s films a lot; I’ve discussed this in the past. But his 2002 musical tribute to French cinema’s “Grande Dame,” 8 Women, also more than a titular homage to George Cukor’s 1939 The Women, exemplifies the aspects of his films that I like so much and is a welcome change of pace in Ozon’s body of work.

Suzon comes home from college for Christmas break to find her father dead. She, along with all her extended family and servants, get snowed in, so must solve the mystery themselves. In the process, deep family secrets are revealed, and the fabric of a rich family is torn asunder. Supporting this Agatha Christie plot is a litany of great French actresses that represent the past, present, and future of French filmmaking, and are allowed to explode in all their melodramatic glory. We have Suzon, her sister Catherine (Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier, two of the fastest rising young stars in France [Sagnier has been fantastic in two other films for Ozon, as well]), and their mother Gaby (Catherine Deneuve, whose unbelievable skill and beauty are the stuff of legend) as the immediate family of the deceased. Gaby’s mother Mamy (Danielle Darrieux, who is currently celebrating her 75th year in film) and virginal, hyper-tense sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert, cast in a role far against type) have come to live at the estate and leech off the fortune. The dead dad’s estranged sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant) just happens to pop by that morning, and the maids (Emmanuelle Beart and Firmine Richard) are acting pretty weird in their own right. The strange twists and dark turns that come on this windy road are all tongue-in-cheek, especially when the ladies break into song just after revealing some of the most damning insight into the situation. There’s nothing conventional about the plot, although the outcome does not come from nowhere, and the revelations certainly agree with my esthetic, if nothing else.

With a few exceptions, I’m not the biggest fan of film stage productions, which 8 Women certainly feels like. But Jeanne Lapoire’s cinematography is fantastic and, even though there is essentially one room the action takes place in, he breathes a vivid life into a setting that, while often over the top, never feels put on. Ozon, having just previously directed his successful film adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Water Drops on Burning Rocks, manages the action with master’s skill. No actress is upstaged, and all of them flow through this lush front room of the mansion with grace and ease. They all act together believably as a family; all the bickering and changes of allegiance ring hilariously true.

Often, even in his comedies like Sitcom, Ozon’s films have a weighty cloud of satire, commentary, and seriousness over them, but 8 Women is pure, uninhibited fun. Watching all these actresses at their comedic best more than makes up for some plotting that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and, like a more restrained David Lynch, it is sometimes better to go along for the ride and take in the big picture, because red herrings are the name of the game here.