A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Here it is at last, the first Agatha Christie musical. Eight women are isolated in a snowbound cottage, there is a corpse with a knife in his back, all of the women are potential suspects, plus six song and dance numbers. The cast is a roll call of French legends. In alphabetical order: Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Virginie Ledoyen, Firmine Richard and Ludivine Sagnier.
From the opening shot, the film cheerfully lets us know it's a spoof of overproduced Hollywood musicals. We pan past tree branches impossibly laden with picturesque snow and find a charming cottage where guests are just arriving. Eight women have gathered to celebrate Christmas with Marcel, who is the husband of Gaby (Deneuve), the son-in-law of Mamy (Darrieux), the brother-in-law of Aunt Augustine (Huppert), the father of Catherine (Sagnier) and Suzon (Ledoyen), the employer of the domestic servants Madame Chanel (Richard) and Louise (Beart), and the brother of the late-arriving Pierrette (Ardant).
"Monsieur died in his bed with a knife in his back," the assembled company is informed. And (significant detail required in all isolated rural murders) "the dogs didn't bark all night." The women absorb this news while dressed in stunning designer fashions (even the maids look chic) and deployed around a large, sunny room that looks like nothing so much as a stage set--even to the detail that all the furniture is behind the actresses most of the time. Only a couple of brief excursions upstairs prevent the movie from taking place entirely on this one bright set, where nothing looks used or lived with.
The artificiality is so jolly that we're not surprised when the first song begins, because "8 Women" is in no sense serious about murder, its plot, or anything else. It's an elaborate excuse to have fun with its cast, and we realize we've been waiting a long time for Catherine Deneuve to come right out and say of Isabelle Huppert: "I'm beautiful and rich. She's ugly and poor." I had also just about given up hope of ever seeing Deneuve and Fanny Ardant rolling around on the floor pulling each other's hair.