The last entry in our Festival de Julie à la française and what better way to go out than a fab French film featuring no less than eight Julies!
8 femmes (8 Women, 2002) was the breakout international hit for French wunderkind, François Ozon. The young French filmmaker had already made a name for himself as a visionary talent with a series of groundbreaking shorts and a handful of award-winning feature films including Sitcom(1998), Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, 2000) and Sous le sable (Under the Sand, 2000). These films established Ozon as a singularly innovative filmmaker with a penchant for acerbic reworkings of classical genre films and a central interest in progressive gender and sexual politics. In particular, Ozon had already secured a reputation as a notable “women’s director,” developing strong, complex female roles in his films and eliciting standout performances from top female acting talents. “I love female characters,” Ozon asserts. “Sometimes it’s easier for a male director to identify with a woman, because it’s not you, and you are more able to judge them, to understand them, to feel them. And actresses are often more clever than actors” (Asibong, 41) 8 femmes brought all these dynamics together with extraordinary flourish.
Ozon had long harboured ambitions to make a revisionist “woman’s film” and, to that end, had originally hoped to acquire the rights to remake George Cukor’s 1939 classic, The Women. When this property proved unavailable he turned his attention to Huit femmes, a relatively forgotten 1958 whodunnit written for an all-female ensemble cast by dramatist Robert Thomas that had been turned into a moderately successful film in 1960 under the title, La Nuit des suspectes (aka Huit femmes en noir). Reworked as a quirky pastiche Agatha Christie-style murder mystery cum family melodrama cum musical, Ozon developed the film as an homage to classic fifties Hollywood cinema, especially the stylized melodramas of Douglas Sirk and the musicals of Vincente Minnelli, with theatrical staging, formal mise-en-scene and a chromatic colour palette. Moreover, he peopled the film with a dream cast of eight of France’s top female film talents including Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, and Firmine Richard.
The presence of these stars, many of them iconic legends of French cinema whose collective work dates back decades, indeed as far back as the 1930s in the case of Darrieux, brought immense cultural esteem to the film, while also creating endless possibilities for intertextual referencing that Ozon, ever the keen cinephile, mined to extraordinary effect. As Jean-Marc Lalanne notes, 8 femmes “is as much a film about as a film with Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Huppert…François Ozon has managed to direct the most meta film in all of French cinema" (cited in Schilt, 67).
Possibly because of the film’s immense star power and possibly because it is so stylishly crafted and, well, plain fun, 8 femmes was a major hit in France, with 3.7 miliion admissions, and it went on to enjoy considerable critical and commercial success abroad, winning a swag of awards. Not surprisingly, there was talk of a Hollywood remake and Miramax was rumoured to have taken up the options but, as of yet, nothing concrete has eventuated. It’s certainly fun to play the casting game for a possible Hollywood version and no prizes for guessing which classic STAR! would be top of the list here in the Parallel Julieverse…heck, as seen here, we’d get Julie to play all eight roles! Though, *spoiler alert*, in our version, it was Julie who dun it!
Meanwhile, Ozon has continued to make films of equal originality and flair, cementing his position as one of the most talented directors working in France today. In particular, he has remained steadfast in his commitment to creating strong and interesting female roles on screen and has worked with a growing list of major female stars including further films with 8 Femmes alumni Catherine Deneuve and Ludivine Sagnier, and others with Jeanne Moreau, Charlotte Rampling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Isabelle Carré, and Romola Garai. So far Julie isn’t on the list and, while Mary Poppins would surely baulk at the impertinence of putting ideas into people’s head, if you’re reading this Monsieur Ozon, wouldn’t it be lover-ly?
Asibong, Andrew. François Ozon. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008.
Schilt, Thibault. François Ozon. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2011.