8 Women isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of French cinema. The existential works of Melville and Truffaut are what usually fill my thoughts, not a frothy and carefree affair with relatively simple goals. But don't take this as a slam on the film's overall quality. On the contrary, 8 Women is quite enjoyable, not to mention fairly busy. It resembles what would happen if Douglas Sirk and American Bandstand were in a head-on collision, ensuring viewers at home that they'll be anything but bored.
Lovely young Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) has returned from school to spend Christmastime at her family's spacious countryside estate. But no sooner has she set foot in the door when she's greeted with some most unpleasant news: her father, Marcel, has been found dead with a knife in his back. Not only that, but the phone lines have been cut and the family car sabotaged. In no time at all, Suzon has switched into Sherlock Holmes mode, turning a questioning eye upon the seven other women currently residing in the house. Was Marcel done in by the seductive new chambermaid (Emmanuelle Beart)? Or was it the old family cook (Firmine Richard), who's been carrying on with Marcel's promiscuous sister (Fanny Ardant)? Suzon's uptight aunt Augustine (Isabelle Huppert) is acting mighty shifty, and her kindly old granny (Danielle Darrieux) has some secrets of her own. Even her own mother (Catherine Deneuve) and rebellious sister (Ludivine Sagnier) remain suspects — although Suzon herself may just as easily be the culprit.
Obviously, 8 Women isn't exactly big on plot. The story is your basic Agatha Christie scenario, with a season's worth of soap opera storylines crammed in whether they fit or not. All it really has going for it is the "whodunit" angle, but director/co-writer Francois Ozon makes it clear that he doesn't put terribly much stock in this department. His intention isn't to construct a labyrinthine mystery to put The Usual Suspects to shame but to show viewers a good time and play a certain cinematic style to the hilt while he's at it.