“she’s a sapphist!”

Opening sidenote: The above quote is probably one of the funniest lines in a film I’ve come across in a long, long while. The delivery is priceless.

Funny that it took so long for me to get around to 8 Femmes (8 Women) (François Ozon, France, 2002) as it’s a film so obviously up my alley… and while I wasn’t exactly disappointed I wasn’t entirely satisfied either. It’s truly a bizarre little confection, really—featuring an exemplary cast showcasing a number of the most recognizable female names in contemporary French cinema (Deneuve, Huppert, Ardent, Beart, Sagniere, Ledoyen, to say nothing of the legendary Danielle Darrieux, still spry in her mid 80’s) but all shoehorned somewhat inelegantly into a hodgepodge of distinctly British manor house murder mystery tropes and equally distinct American classic Hollywood melodrama conventions. Most of the fun—and don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to be had—is derived from the sense of fun via the obvious fun these actresses are having, as well as Ozon’s awareness that the real pleasure in this particular type of mystery is less in the final revelation than in twisty paths required to get there.

Curiously, it was the musical numbers that fell most flat for me—interesting because if I ever made a film I’d do a similar thing (make musical numbers out of 60’s French pop songs and integrate them into a seemingly incongruous storyline) but each number felt uncomfortable clunky here, too forced and too calculated. Even more odd is that the musical sequences provide the film with some of its most striking moments—particularly Huppert’s emotional, showstopping cover of the  Françoise Hardy classic “Message Personnel”—but on the other hand each time a character breaks out in song it brings the film to a grinding halt, which is exactly what a musical number shouldn’t do. As I seem to say at the end of every review of a Ozon film I’ve written, it’s really a failed experiment and yet has so many points of compensation that despite myself I just really don’t care.

ADDENDUM: Every time I come across this review, I’m surprised at how harsh my initial reaction was, considering how fond my memories of it are.  I’ll have to write a full re-evaluation one of these days.

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