There Is No Happy Love: 8 Women (2002)

The tagline for this move was simple: 8 Women, 1 Murder.  I will admit that it is not the greatest of taglines and led me to be a bit dismissive about the French work initially, however, it is seriously a film about the murder of one male and eight women who attempt to come to grips and find the culprit.  With that being said, 8 Women is fantastically quirky and completely beyond anything I could have possibly predicted.  The opening title sequence is rather frilly and almost tacky, perhaps intentional on the part of director Francois Ozon and delivers a commentary of what the film will be, a group of women acting in the most dramatic and frivolous ways possible as they attempt to make somewhat tacky excuses to their various misdeeds.  A combination of slapstick humor, musical numbers and snide humor, 8 Women is a  film that has inevitably redeemed my faith in French comedies.  Somewhere between the hipness of Godard and the whimsy of Almodovar lays 8 Women.  A colorful film, with a mind of its own, provides a complete reimagining of what we, as viewers, have come to recognize as a thriller.  Furthermore, despite the narrative being heavily involved in the notion that women are inherently deceptive, one cannot deny that it should be praised for having a cast that is composed nearly entirely of women, and the one male present only amounts to maybe a minute of screen time.  If for no other reason than because the film is riotously fun, it is a must-watch movie.

8 Women, as the title suggests, follows a group of 8 contentious women who are all recouping with the recent announcement that the familial head, patriarchal figure Marcel (Dominique Lamure), has been the victim of a murder.  This leads the house into unrest, initially with Marcel's discovery by his youngest daughter Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) who constantly vies for the adoration and acknowledgement of pretty much anyone.  Catherine's sister, and Marcel's other daughter Suzon (Virgine Ledoyen) also become involved with the plot as she has recently returned home from college.  Marcel's wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve) is also present, although she makes it clear that their relationship was strained.  Marny (Daniell Darrieux) is also in attendance as the mother in law to Marcel, she lives with both Marcel and Gaby in her old age.  Gaby's sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert) is also a resident of the house because she suffers from a variety of heart issues making living alone inconceivable, add to the mix two maids and Marcel's own sister and paranoid claims arise instantly.  As each accusation flies it becomes clear that deception has existed within Marcel's household far before his recent death, ranging from affairs, to back door card games and a series of problematic business dealings that seem to put the biggest amount of strain on the entire family.  As the plot thickens, or falls apart depending on a persons interpretation, it becomes evident that each woman involved has a considerable secret they are hiding and combined together results in an unfathomable amount of deception, all that is blown away by a new fact about Marcel's death that will even surprise the most versed of film viewers.

It is hard to completely praise the film for its depictions of women in main roles as much of what is shown is egregiously problematic.  First off, the film clearly posits that women are amongst other things hysterical, deceptive, sex-crazed and vampiric in their craze for money.  None of these of course are factual claims about women in general and merely serve as a means of narrative continuation, played up to comedic proportions.  Furthermore, it is an issue that a film depicts women distrusting one another, but that again serves as narrative advancement and simply just needs to be acknowledge.  What the film does right is depict a group of women together, one in which they completely possess the narrative.  It is a woman-centered film, with women in it and only lacks a female director to complete the trifecta.  I would have to revisit the film to see if it passes the Bechdel Test, because considering that Marcel's death does serve as an overarching factor it is possible that it fails the test on the grounds of nobody having a conversation without mentioning a male figure.  Another notable factor of the film is that it approaches issues of gender, class and race simultaneously in a film, something I have only seen done one other time in French film via Black Girl, a film I highly recommend.  I hate to go with the statement that some acknowledgement is better than none, but in the case of such a fun and enjoyable film as 8 Women I cannot recommend it enough and praise it for what it does accomplish critically.

Key Scene: The initial song and dance number is most excellent, probably due to the fact that it is so unexpected.

8 Women is a film well worth renting and viewing, if you are an ardent Francophile then purchasing might be an option as well.

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