January 23, 2003 -- "8 Women" is a one-of-a-kind murder mystery combined with sprightly song and dance numbers. Eight women are stranded in a snow storm in a country estate. The head of the household is murdered, and the murderer is somewhere in the house. You are terrified, so what do you do? Why you break into a bunch of merry song and dance numbers, of course! Why didn't anybody think of doing this kind of weird Bollywood musical murder mystery before? Just a guess, but maybe because it is a stupid idea. Then again, some people thought "Moulin Rouge" was the bees knees, so maybe they thought they could pull this off, too. Nice try, but no cigar. You want to see a real musical? Watch "Chicago."
The venerable French icon Catherine Deneuve stars as Gaby, the head of this wacky, dysfunctional household, while Danielle Darrieux plays Mamy, Isabelle Huppert plays Augustine, Emmanuelle Béart plays Louise, Fanny Ardant plays Pierrette, Virginie Ledoyen plays Suzon, Ludivine Sagnier plays Catherine and Firmine Richard plays Madame Chanel. There, I think that's eight, about eight too many, it turns out. There is also one man in the house, but he stays out of sight (you can't really blame him with that constant caterwauling and stomping around) almost all the time. The film looks more like a play than a movie, with claustrophobic sets, following a very artificial-looking exterior shot, and that's because (big surprise) it is based on a play.
The story is much like Agatha Christie's classic tale of "10 Little Indians," with two major differences. The first difference I can't tell you because it would spoil the story (if such a thing is possible), but it is major. The second difference is this is a musical. Every cast member has a solo or a group song and dance to perform during the movie. It looks like they must perform this solo number whether they like it or not. The plot is like a soap opera in that the most outlandish revelations come to light, lesbian relationships, incest, infidelity, murder and all kinds of dark, hidden secrets about this highly dysfunctional family come bubbling up from out of the past. There are enough revelations here for a hundred ordinary families. As the story goes on, amid the singing and dancing, we learn that pretty much everyone is leaching money from the lone man of the house, Marcel (played by Dominique Lamure).
Most of these revelations are played for laughs. The whole thing is pretty funny in its own way, especially the parts that are supposed to be serious. The ending of the film is fittingly funny and ironic. If I was Marcel, I might have done the same. If the audience is still awake by then, they will be doing well to suppress yawns. Did I mention this film was made in France? Well of course it is. The whole thing probably makes perfect sense in France. On this side of the pond it just doesn't translate that well. Me? I managed to stay awake though the whole film out of a sense of duty, but don't ask me to give this film more than a C- rating. I can only sacrifice so much in the name of cinema. One thing about this film, it does make Moulin Rouge look as brilliant as some people thought it was by comparison.
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