8 Women
2 out of 5 stars8 Femmes
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living in a house full of women can be murder Writer-director Francois Ozon goes all Technicolor on us with this vivid, stylized all-female 1950s musical-comedy whodunit. It's a strange brew--not completely successful, but still quite entertaining. We're in an isolated French manor house, where the eldest daughter (Ledoyen) has just returned home for Christmas from her studies in London; her younger sister (Sagnier) is glad to have her back after all she's had to put up with at home. Their glamorous mother (Deneuve) is the grand dame of the household, always bickering with her uptight sister (Huppert) and their cranky mother (Darrieux). Father is still asleep, or so they think. He's actually been stabbed in the back. Everyone is a suspect, including father's estranged wild-child sister (Ardant), the seasoned housekeeper (Richard) and especially the new maid (Beart). Everyone is lying. Everyone had a motive and an opportunity to wield the fatal knife.

While the colours and amazing costumes make this feel almost like a spoof of 1950s-style movies, the plot, sets and direction hark back to the story's origin as a stage play. The action is confined to the main room of the house (with only a few token cutaways), and each actress gets to shine in a scene of her own, complete with a big musical number. As the story unravels, there are so many twists and turns that it's often quite funny to keep track of shifting loyalties and liaisons. The actresses all light up the screen and hold our attention, even though they play their roles like amateur drama queens! There's no way to pick a stand-out--this is a true ensemble film, although Huppert plays furthest from type; her prim red-head is a hilariously pinched bundle of nerves and barely repressed bitterness. And while the film is thoroughly enjoyable as a comedy-mystery, it's more frustrating as an examination of women and society. All attempts at serious commentary are undermined by goofiness in the writing or direction, and by the end the film can actually be seen as anti-feminist! There's just enough of a hint at something interesting beneath the surface to make you wish Ozon had actually had the nerve to really go for it.

cert 15 adult themes 26.Nov.02

dir-scr Francois Ozon
with Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Danielle Darrieux, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard
release US 20.Sep.02; UK 29.Nov.02
Canal+
02/France 1h43

Six out of eight: The women spend a day trying to figure out whodunit (Ledoyen, Darrieux, Ardant, Deneuve, Huppert, Beart)

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send your review to Shadows... living in a house full of women can be murder Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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