September 30, 2002 12:00 PM

Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Danielle Darrieux

Featured attraction

Pure joy. That’s what you will feel as you float out of the theater after seeing this wacky musical whodunit starring several of France’s most accomplished and best known actresses. It helps if you are already familiar with their previous screen work—and know, for example, that Deneuve has often played ice princesses and that Huppert goes in for edgy, arty dramas—but it isn’t necessary to follow what’s happening onscreen or to find their antics a hoot.

Borrowing a plot as old as Agatha Christie, 8 Women is a country-house mystery. The movie (in French with English subtitles) strands its titular eight females in a snowbound château in the French countryside in the 1950s. A fresh corpse, that of the wealthy master of the house, is discovered in a bedroom. Who murdered him? The dead man’s elegant wife (Deneuve)? His glamorous sister (Ardant)? The fetching maid (Béart)? As each woman tells her story and, at some point, breaks out into a pop ditty, it is revealed that all eight had a motive.

Director-coscreenwriter François Ozon (Under the Sand) made 8 Women after he was unable to secure rights to remake that 1939 Hollywood henfest The Women. With 8, he pays direct homage to the artifice and allure of such swanky, golden Hollywood confections as well as to the sleek thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock and the manicured ’50s weepies of Douglas Sirk. All eight actresses enchant, though highest honors go to Deneuve, who enthusiastically lampoons her habitual hauteur, and to Huppert, who is goofily hilarious as a repressed spinster who gets in touch with her inner glamorpuss. (R)

Bottom Line: A French treat

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