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8 WOMEN (article first published : 2004-01-28)

If you enjoyed Greg King's excellent comic whodunnit, Table Manners, a stage production back by public demand at Greyville's Kwasuka Theatre, you simply have to see 8 Women.

Similar in theme to King's stage hit, it's a camp and giddy send-up of two cinema genres - the murder mystery and the musical - and is an enchanting French film, with subtitles, teaming eight of that country's top actresses. They include Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant and Virginie Ledoyen - and they're under the direction of Francois Ozon.

Ozon is considered something of an enfant terrible of contemporary Gallic cinema, noted for his sombre-toned fare, but in crafting this intentionally artificial piece, a glossy homage to 50s and 60s melodramas, he displays a deft light touch.

His farcical tragi-comedy is set in a snowy French valet, where the frosty, pampered and decorative Gaby (Deneuve) welcomes home from school her bubbly daughter Suzon (Ledoyen). Others soon make an appearance at the villa - among them Gaby's spinster sister Augustine (scene-stealing Huppert), attractive chambermaid Louise (Beart) and Marcel's independent-minded sister, Pierrette (Ardant).

Also present are Gaby's wheelchair-bound mother (Danielle Darrieux), feisty housekeeper Chanel (Firmine Richard) and Gaby's youngest daughter, Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier).

The cat is set among the pigeons when it is discovered Gaby's sleeping husband, Marcel (Dominique Lamure), has been fatally stabbed in the back while on his bed.

Snowed in and with the phone line cut, the catty and conniving women then start to accuse and confront each other, each revealing a secret and a motive for the killing. In between all the chaos that ensures we get a song from each woman, sometimes accompanied by a dance routine, leading to the big finish. The film will appeal to anyone who enjoys the offbeat. I loved it. Rating: 8/10. Billy Suter




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