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Review: 8 Women

04/01/2010

Plot

Eight femmes find themselves trapped in a mansion over the course of a wintery day. With the owner and only homme in the movie lying dead behind his locked study door, the eight characters, realizing that the killer is among themselves, must sing and dance their way to uncovering the truth.

Who will enjoy this movie

This is the kind of movie for which those who know about it are predispositioned to enjoy it. While the murder is at the center of the plot, it is really the complicated relationships of women to each other and the dead man that keeps things moving. Those looking for a character driven movie about gender roles will find more than enough to enjoy. The music, set and costume design was chosen to be reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s productions in the 50s and I imagine that some viewers would find the nostalgic element equally enjoyable. Finally, there are the actresses, while their performances are not anything spectacular, just seeing so many major faces on the screen at the same time could be enough to drive a viewers interest. If you like the films of Pedro Almodovar, specifically All About My Mother or Volver you would probably find something to like about this film as well.

Who will not enjoy this movie

You might be thinking of watching this movie because you liked the director, Francois Ozon’s murder sex fantasy mystery Swimming Pool (2003). If that is the case, let me stop you before you reach the checkout line, Swimming Pool 8 Women ain’t. The main problem most people will find with this film is that the murder mystery itself, who was were when etc, is set far into the background of the dialoge that labeling it as a murder mystery seems almost a misnomer. As a result, Poirot fans need not apply. In terms of the film’s feminist perspective, the film offers no heroines, in fact the script seems to do everything to breakdown any idealizations about the gender roles that these eight women play; there are no Erin Brockovichs nor Thelma and Louis’s.

A Closer Look

It’s hard for me to say whether or not I liked this film. As much as I’d like to be trapped in a mansion with Emmanuelle Beart as the maid, that idea wasn’t enough to pull me through some of the song and danse sequences. That said, at no point was I really bored.  I feel like there are two ways of talking about 8 Women. First in terms of its production. As a film inspired by and created to reproduce the look and sound of 1950s Alfred Hitchcock, Ross Hunter and Douglas Sirk productions, 8 Women is an interesting piece of retro sentimentality. I felt though that the film maker never did anything with these elements. The songs were not particularly interesting and seemed artificial even for a film like this one. While not every musical needs an explicit reason to be a musical, I feel like the choice to put lines to a melody needs some reasoning. Not that the filmmakers didn’t have their reasons, I’m sure they did, those reasons just are not apparent to me.

The other way to talk about this movie seems to be interms of its gender perspective. Like I said in the who will not enjoy this film section, none of these women are portrayed as heroines. Each one is disparages the others for, in a sense, giving into a male centric role, while they themselves use their particular relationship to men to achieve gains, even if that means resigning themselves similarly to some gender specific role. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. You could say that the movie is not so much about how women are restricted by their gender roles, but about how someone can hate in others what they find in themselves. I say someone instead of women for two reasons. First because I feel that this theme is not limited to women alone, one could easily say that men do the same thing to each other, or even that this kind of antagonism exists across the sexes as well. The second reason I say someone is because I feel a little bit uneasy with the way that 8 Women seems to lump all women together, or to say it another way, to make a comment about women in general as if women were a different species, subject to a different set of physiognomic and emotional rules. For being based on a play written by a man, 8 Women goes to pretty far lengths to show its cast of female characters as bitter and trivial. Perhaps not trivial, but at least microcosmic in their concerns.

By the end of the movie, with the revelation of its central mystery, the audience realizes that at the center of all these women’s fears and dreams are men. None of these women can define themselves by any other means than in relation to men, specifically the man lying dead in his study. Even the characters who aim to find happiness apart from male companionship, in the end, can only describe their happiness in terms of a lack of men. If this movie is about the worst that women can do for themselves then I say it has done a remarkable job. But the fact that gender is portrayed in such an ‘us versus them’ manner means to me that no possible hope or lesson could every be learned from these characters’ example. I don’t think that every film has to have a moral lesson or that it has to enlighten the audience, but I do think that if you are going to make a movie called 8 Women in which the topic of gender is a central theme you need to at least offer a counterpoint.

The dead body in 8 Women is located in a study on the second floor, its door looking out on the salon where most of the action takes place. And just as this door looks out over the women, so does, it seems to me, the image of male superiority loom over all their motivations. These women are ruled by their relations to men and, as they are stuck in this mansion because of a snow storm they seem to be stuck emotionally because they cannot find anyway to find identity independent of the men in their lives. The film Antichrist received a lot of criticism and praise for its depiction of misogyny. While Antichrist was graphic and violent, to me 8 Women is far more effective in this regard. I will not fault the director for giving us a film filled with negative examples, I’m sure that this movie is true in many regards concerning gender roles. I do, however, find it unsatisfying that the director only saw fit to portray these women in terms of their gender. Even though the characters themselves only see themselves in this way, the director, the camera’s eye is in a unique position to show us more. An ability for the most part unused in this film.

Alternate Headlines

Positive Review:  My true love gave to me: 8 Violent Femmes

Negative Review: 8 Women or how my holiday with Emanuelle Beart was ruined

About the Movie

Title: 8 Women (8 Femmes)
Directed by: Francois Ozon
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant
Written by: François Ozon, Marina de Van, based on the play by Robert Thomas
Released by: Focus Features 2002
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