Film Review Archive

Eight Women
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Eight Women, now playing at the Nick in Santa Cruz, is directed by François Ozon, one of France's most interesting directors today. Normally, Ozon's stuff doesn't even make it to the US art houses, featuring instead in the festival circuit. And often it's not fit for PG consumption; this one almost is.

Ozon's absurdist and anti-realist aesthetic goes well with the genre and period he celebrates here: the great age of technicolor, Hollywood musicals of the fifties, and melodrama. It's both comedy and Agatha Christie-style whodunit mystery. Best of all, it stars great French divas of the past and present: Danielle Darrieux is the grandmother, Catherine Deneuve is the wife and mother, Isabelle Huppert is her over-the-top uptight sister, and the two daughters are Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier. Beyond this matriarchal family, there's the housekeeper, played by Firmine Richard, the chambermaid played by Emmanuelle Béart, and an exotic femme-fatale sister-in-law played by the magnificent Fanny Ardant.

The story centers around the murder of the man of the house, and one of the ladies is presumed to have done it. As the story unfolds, we learn the secrets of each, which include not only the usual greed and sexual indiscretion, but also lesbianism, prostitution, incest and S/M. Each actress is given a musical number to perform, which she does in a highly stylized , awkward fashion that reminds us of the pastiche character of the movie. By the way, the actresses really do sing. Each song is also a love song of sorts. One way to think about it is as a gay man's campy daydream about the absent object of desire: longing and aggression are combined and ventriloquized by these larger-than-life spectacularly gorgeous movie stars who move like puppets being manipulated.

The structure that binds the orchestrating imagination to these women is not, therefore, desire, but identification, which is why, perhaps, that, in spite of how evil and scheming they are, there is no trace of misogyny, as one might find in this movie's straight twin genre, film noir. We're with these women all the way. They are, if anything, the deliciously narcissistic projections of a single self that is so characteristic of the wish-fulfilling nature of daydreams. In its dream-logic, its stylization, period placement, and bizarre intrigue, Eight Women is like a queer David Lynch movie turned musical, with campy brightness substituted for the ominous overtones of a movie like Mulholland Drive.

There are some memorable sexy moments in this movie that will delight both the boys and the girls. We get to see Deneuve do a repeat performance from The Haunting, but with-in my opinion-a much sexier partner-and we get to see Emmanuelle Béart and Catherine do the kind of high-brow top-bottom thing that porn can only aspire to in its wildest dreams. Go see this one. It's smart, funny, and unusual. And it makes one downright proud to be a femme.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.