Before directing Charlotte Rampling to the performance of her career in last year’s Under the Sand, naughty French auteur François Ozon tipped his hat to the kings of artifice (Sirk, Sternberg and Fassbinder) with Water Drops on Burning Rocks. Ozon assembles an all-star cast of French divas for 8 femmes (8 Women), a musical mystery revue of Cukor’s The Women. For indie lovers, this may be the first major letdown of the fall season though it should whet the whistle of anyone looking forward to Todd Haynes’s reworking of Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, Far from Heaven. Murdered patriarch Marcel is the embodiment of all men so whipped by their women they become mere abstractions of their natural selves (as such, Ozon positions actor Dominique Lamure with his back to the camera at all times). The snowy exteriors of Marcel’s remote estate scream ’50s domestic sitcom, as does the effective if not overzealous score by Krishna Levy. The list of color-coordinated would-be murderesses includes Marcel’s sexy sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant), his stingy mother-in-law Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), his wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), her prudish sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), whorish maid Louise (Emmanuelle Béart), cook of African descent Chanel (Firmine Richard) and his daughters Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier). Ozon’s compositions suggest a man schooled on Sirk yet there is no real relationship between the film’s eight women and their surroundings. If reality in Sirk’s anti-naturalist melodramas is programmed into his mise-en-scène, the glamorous living room interior of 8 femmes is a mere backdrop for what amounts to little more than a French Divas Live concert (or, more accurately, a queer version of Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris). The alibi-less women accuse each other of Marcel’s murder, encouraging the accused-of-the-moment to defend her honor via loungey song n’ dance. Save for the stained glass windows and fake doves that point to the duplicitous fragility of Huppert’s Augustine, there are no real signs within the film’s artifice by which the emotions of these women can be gauged. If Ozon’s stylistic choices are superficial then his concerns with race and sexuality are even more so. But while he reduces them to moving Barbie dolls, Ozon clearly loves his women. Or, as much as a catty drag queen can.
- Francois Ozon
- Francois Ozon, Marina de Van
- Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard
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