Berlin 2002 REVIEW: Celebrating the Artificial; Ozon Fills the Screen with "8 Femmes"

by Peter Brunette

(indieWIRE/02.11.02) -- Francois Ozon's latest opus, "8 Femmes," which took Paris by storm last week with the biggest box-office opening in French film history, was received somewhat more tepidly here at the Berlin Film Festival. At once delightful, problematic and very, very French, the film, which stars virtually all of the great French actresses currently working, has an iffy future ahead of it when it opens in the U.S.

The openly gay Ozon ("Sitcom," "Under the Sand") flaunts his campy love for all things feminine right from the opening moments of the film, which sports jewels, glamour music with lots of strings, and lavender lettering in the credits. "8 Femmes" is populated uniquely by the eight females figured in the title -- a matriarch, played by the 40's grand dame Danielle Darrieux, two embattled sisters (Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert), Deneuve's daughters (Virginie Ledoyen and a less well-known Ludivine Sagnier), Deneuve's vampy sister-in-law Fanny Ardant, and two maids (Emanuelle Béart and Firmine Richard). In principle, there is a man in the film as well -- Deneuve's husband--but we only see him from the back and he has no lines of dialogue. It is his murder around which the whole of "8 Femmes" turns, however, and thus he functions more than a bit like Mr. Kaplan, the absent center of Hitchcock's masterpiece "North By Northwest." Owing to the superficial similarity of the murder mystery motif, facile comparisons with Altman's "Gosford Park" have abounded here (where the latter is also showing), but the two films couldn't be more different in aim or method.

The set, basically the living room of the ritzy country home of Deneuve's character (here once again playing the glamorous ice queen, what else?), is purposely fake and artificial. What goes on within it carries not even a soup