“Un homme? Pourquoi un homme?”
Having recently seen Isabelle Huppert on stage and Fanny Ardant at a film festival, I was reminded that I hadn’t watched François Ozon’s 8 Femmes for some time and I took great pleasure in reacquainting myself with a film I love dearly. If I believed in guilty pleasures this would be up there but for me, there’s no guilt at all, purely pleasure. Adapted by Ozon from the play by Robert Thomas, 8 Femmes is a retro delight, a technicolour musical version of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery, beautifully spoofing the overblown Hollywood style.
It also boasts quite the roll-call of cross-generational French acting talent in the eight women it gathers in a snowbound country mansion to celebrate Christmas with the single man of the piece Marcel. There’s his wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), his mother-in-law Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), his sister-in-law Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), his daughters Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) and Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen), his sister Pierette (Franny Ardant) and his household staff Madame Chanel (Firmine Richard) and Louise (Emmanelle Béart).
It isn’t long before he gets offed in the night-time, a knife in the back, and with the phone lines cut and the only car sabotaged, it isn’t long before they all start to question each other. None of it is taken at all seriously though, tongue in most firmly in cheek as we see catfights, passionate clinches, radical transformations, myriad accusations and revelation following revelation as the secrets of all eight of these women come to light. That each woman gets her own song and dance routine to express herself ends up feeling most natural indeed.
And there’s just so much fun about the whole piece that it is nigh on impossible to resist. Whether the daftness of Isabelle Huppert’s shrewish maiden aunt (first amongst equals here, finding something exquisite in her rendition of ‘Message Personnel’), the louche glamour of Fanny Ardant’s former working girl who revels in rolling on the floor with Catherine Deneuve and pulling her hair, or the pouting beauty of Emmanuelle Béart’s flirtatious maid, Ozon delights in playing with his cast and their public perceptions and it is just joyous to behold.
And as a bonus, here’s the blooper reel from the film. It’s all brilliant but the section from 3,28 as Huppert tries, and fails majestically, to stop from corpsing is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.