Every now and then, if you're lucky, you come across a film that so nails your particular tastes and fancies that it feels as if someone had snuck into your dreams and extracted a fragment of your psyche. Take George Cukor's The Women, cross it with Agatha Christie, throw in a dash of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, and you get 8 Women: an intoxicatingly charming cinematic confection aimed directly at the heart of a nostalgia-prone film fan like me.This Gallic homage to the days of the Hollywood "woman's picture" stars a galaxy of France's greatest actresses in a musical comedy murder mystery that doesn't just tease camp, but envelopes it in a loving embrace.
|Danielle Darrieux: Would she kill her husband just because he was too perfect?|
|Catherine Deneuve: Would she kill her husband just to run off with a lover?|
|Isabelle Huppert: Would she kill a man just because he resisted her advances?|
|Fanny Ardant: Would she kill a man just for money?|
|Emmanuelle Beart: Would she kill her employer?|
|Virginie Ledoyen: Would she kill the man who betrayed her?|
|Ludivine Sagnier: Would she kill to protect someone?|
|Fermine Richard: Would she kill to hide a secret?|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I am just crazy about the way this film looks. The phrase "eye candy" was invented for movies like this. Sporting art direction seemingly inspired by an exploded petit four factory and a color palette taken from a drag queen's makeup case, 8 Women is one sumptuous viewing experience. The rich, hyper-vibrancy of the cinematography intentionally harkens back to the 50s Technicolor melodramas of Ross Hunter and Douglas Sirk, while the tailored, color-specific costuming recalls the glory days of Edith Head and the Hollywood studio system. A system that demanded that stars look like stars no matter the requirements of the script.
|Deneuve & Beart face off...and look fabulous doing so!|
|Ardant & Deneuve in the cat-fight of the century!|
It shouldn't be the cinema anomaly that it is, but one of the more satisfying things about 8 Women is that after taking the trouble to assemble a first-class cast of iconic French actresses, Ozon actually shows off each to her best advantage and allows them to play to their strengths. Consequently, the entire cast is consistently firing on all cylinders and the film fairly crackles with electricity and star quality in each scene. (My head still aches from the lost, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of 70s icons Robert DeNiro, Barbra Streisand, and Dustin Hoffman teamed for...Meet the Fockers???? Heaven wept!)
|Spinster aunt Augustine's response to being asked why she was up at 3am cleaning her comb!|
|The previously wheelchair-bound, sympathy-milking grandmama suddenly reveals she can walk.|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
More difficult than catching lightning in a bottle (and twice as foolhardy) is to attempt to create intentional camp. Camp is a cultural phenomenon easily identified but notoriously resistant to commodification. At its worst, it's like a comic who ruins the punchline by cracking up at his own joke. At its best, it feels like something that comes from a place of gentle affection and nostalgia. The stylistic excesses of 8 Women are so funny because it's so clear that the director is so fond of them.
|Each of the actresses is given her own musical number. Here the exquisite Fanny Ardant channels Rita Hayworth|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Old-style Hollywood films were peerless at using the hyper-reality of the cinema to emphasize real-life issues. All manner of otherwise objectionable material was made digestible if the leading lady was suffering in mink and her surroundings were plush.
|The late, great Romy Schneider makes a surprise appearance as the 9th woman.|
In this age of remake mania, it's impossible to watch 8 Women and not fantasize about who might be cast in an American remake. My mind goes to the actresses I grew up with: Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Jacqueline Bisset, and Julie Christie. Unfortunately, I suspect that the brain-numbing awfulness that was the 2008 remake of The Women (the film Ozon initially wanted to do) may have forever killed any interest in an American version of this utterly beguiling, utterly original film.
Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2011