3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 103 minutes
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Films often demand the viewer to suspend his disbelief and accept the events happening on the screen as normal and characteristic of that particular story world. Should you decide to watch 8 Femmes/8 Women, make sure to suspend your disbelief in advance. Not only is this French film set in one location and is directed as if it was a play, but the characters—all women—also burst into song numbers that are occasionally accompanied by pseudo-choreographed dance moves.

8 Femmes begins and ends in a chateau-like residence where the man of the house is discovered dead in his bed. All of the eight women who know him are suspects: two maids (Firmine Richard & Emmanuelle Beart), one wife (Catherine Deneuve), one sister (Fanny Ardant), one mother-in-law (Danielle Darrieux), one sister-in-law (Isabelle Hubert), and two daughters (Virginie Ledoyen & Ludivine Sagnier). Trapped in this country estate for an entire day, they bicker, accuse each other, and divulge secrets all in the name of discovering the identity of the killer.

The who-done-it aspect of the plot is nothing new, but what makes 8 Femmes so unique and slightly disconcerting is the way in which the story is presented. As soon as the film starts, the sets remind you of a fairy tale. The snowy forest and the exterior of the house look like borrowed sets from a performance of The Nutcracker ballet. Once the action commences inside the house, the next thing you notice is how much the film looks like a play (interestingly, the film is based on a play by the late Robert Thomas). The characters’ movements, body language, and points of entering and exiting the frame appear as though a theatre director staged them.

Moreover, the camera doesn’t do anything fancy that would attract attention to itself. Most of the action takes place in the living room, which is at the foot of the stairs. The camera is almost always in front of the characters too. Even when they suddenly begin singing—and each of the women have their own number—the camera remains in front, creating the illusion that you’re watching a musical on stage rather than a movie.

Technically, 8 Femmes is more than a “filmed play;” it’s a musical. While the content of the songs do not necessarily advance or pertain to the plot, the characters are expressing themselves by singing rather than speaking. This preference of song over spoken word is an essential element of what makes a musical a musical. Clearly, a film, which is really a musical, that looks like a play isn’t for everyone. But it’s such random fun. It’s just like Clue…only with an all female cast.

Posted on March 2, 2004 in Reviews by

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