There are few things more frightening to me than being trapped in a room with eight French actresses for two hours. (These include being trapped in a room with eight leprous French actresses for two hours.) 8 Women, which stars legends Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Fanny Ardant (as well as Ludivine Sagnier, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard, Emmanuelle Béart and the sugar-sweet Virginie Ledoyen), is a dubious proposition for the Francophobic, but it acquits itself with a script so ridiculous that it can’t help but be engaging.
François Ozon’s estrogen-rich romp — four parts Clue, one part Moulin Rouge — makes no bones about being a piece of fiction, a fabrication. And it’s a perfect excuse for these stars of le cinema to snipe and scratch at each other through a haze of sex-charged cigarette smoke. Suzon (Ledoyen) arrives home from boarding school to find her home in disharmony as her mother, Gaby (Deneuve), and younger sister, Catherine (Sagnier), wage domestic war with prudish aunt Augustine (Huppert) and dotty grandmother Mamy (Darrieux). She barely has time to take her coat off before her father, Marcel, is discovered face-down in his bed, dead from a knife to the back. Joined by chambermaid Louise (Béart), housekeeper Chanel (Richard) and, eventually, Marcel’s estranged streetwalker sister, Pierrette (Ardant), the women quarrel with a single-minded venom as they try to out the murderess.
With the Technicolor richness that the intra-femme conflicts provide, it’s a wonder Ozon bothers with stepping even further beyond the border of the everyday into the surreal by having his actresses burst into song when words and cocked eyebrows fail them.
Sultry, bitchy Ardant (where was she when Lynch was casting Mulholland Drive?) arrives midfilm, commandeering our gaze with all the authority one would imagine a haughty, proud hooker to possess. Between her steamroller performance and the film’s straight-off-the-stage production values — the sets of 8 Women look as artificial and unlived-in as mock-ups in the bedroom section of a department store — Ozon seems to wink at us, as if to say he knows this is inane and we should just follow his lead. In a result as surreal as the film itself, 8 Women actually works.
Showing exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].