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r rated, four moon iconUniversal (DVD), ASIN B00007J5VT
The husky voice of the chanteuse haunts this surprising French movie. It creates a thoroughly European atmosphere -- pouty as Brigitte Bardot, sighing with regret. Enter the plot, and immediately the present disappears. In its place, the luxuries of the Fifties become the necessities of eight female characters. All exist as total dependents on an omnipresent absent MAN who plans to turn their lives upside down. What recourse do any of them possess except merciless manipulation of their benefactor?

DVD: 8 WomenThose seeking strong female leads will discover an extravaganza here. Catherine Deneuve heads up a stylized production, which allows the audience only a peek at her rich husband head down with a knife in his back. Who more than she wishes him gone from their lives? Of two wicked sisters (Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Huppert), which could prove more capable of striking a blow for female liberation? The French Revolution might as well be playing out before our eyes on the domestic front. Give the local crone (Danielle Darrieux) knitting needles, and she could star in A Tale of Two Cities.

Sex also stars in an under-handed role as the celebrities slither across the screen. No less than three apparent ingénues compete for faith in female innocence. Virginie Ledoven pops first into the grand familial estate -- just home from exams and self-consciously twirling in her circle skirts, making moues. Her little sister (Ludivine Sagnier) need wait no longer to discover the trouble she hopes her sibling can contrive. Meanwhile, a sultry young maid (Emmanuelle Beart) sashays up and down the magisterial stairs, hips rocking with every step. All these naughty girls merit a daddy who will slam shut his checkbook and put his authoritarian foot down like a bomb.

So, where is Daddy Dearest in this movie, anyway? Well, maybe his corpse rots in the bedroom. Then again, maybe pranks whirl out of hand. An older maid with a record of tete-a-tetes (Firmine Richard) should know all the answers in this sophisticated musical murder mystery. Her lips appear locked, though, as she protects: 1) the delicate daughters of the household, 2) assorted outrageous lovers and 3) a grand dame confined to a wheelchair. Which do these women need more -- a father or a gendarme?

What a brilliant concept! This script offers the antithesis of hard-boiled detective fiction. Every character identifies with a flower; every set flashes before the audience like a scene from The Rich and Famous. Indeed, the costumes would turn Edith Head giddy with envy. Yet somewhere outside the locked room lurks a conniving female with an ax to grind, which fits neatly in her pretty little purse. If this description did not apply to all eight, we might believe the paternal life has been easy.

Released in 2002, this film begins and ends with sudden violence, capering through intermittent musical numbers. See 8 Women: Never did murderers lurk less obviously in not-so-plain sight!

Meg Curtis

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