leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Imagine the John Waters remake of an Agatha Christie mystery directed by Douglas Sirk, and you'll get some idea of the tone of this retro musical melodrama, which features a cast whose combined wattage could eclipse a small solar system. In the palatial country home of a stiflingly bourgeois French family, something wicked is afoot. As perky Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) returns from college for Christmas and her elegant mother, Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), squabbles with her miserly Mamy (Danielle Darrieux) and hypochondriacal spinster sister, Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), tomboyish younger daughter Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) makes a grisly discovery. Her beloved father, Marcel (Dominique Lamure), the lone man in this house of psychotic women, has been stabbed to death in his bed. The telephone line has been cut, but housekeeper Madame Chanel (Firmine Richard) placed a call to the butcher earlier in the day. So the killer must be a member of the household, which is rounded out by insolent maid Louise (Emmanuelle Beart) and Marcel's sister, Pierette (Fanny Ardant), a tragic bon vivant perpetually in need of cash. Who had a motive to kill Marcel? As each woman spills her innermost secrets through an impromptu musical number (a carefully chosen mix of torch songs, ballads and ye-ye numbers), it becomes clear the lavishly art-directed manse is actually a sort of snow bound Orient Express; everyone inside had both reason and opportunity to kill poor Marcel. Francois Ozon's revolving showcase for three generations of French actresses is an oversized trifle inspired by George Cukor's THE WOMEN and Ozon's childhood love of dressing up and posing dolls. Based on an obscure (and in the director's assessment, second-rate) play written in the '60s and designed to look like a Technicolor melodrama from Hollywood's golden age, this theatrical whim is like a dessert so rich it's almost inedible but too irresistible to put down. The opening credits roll over strands of tinkling chandelier glass, the dining room table gleams like glass, the costumes are swooningly lavish and a storm of fat, white flakes fall steadily outside the windows, as though the entire film were shot inside a giant snow globe. It's camp, but not the strident, vulgar camp of brassy drag queens; the film can be summed up in the scene that begins with a decorous Ardant-Deneuve cat fight and ends with them on the floor in a demurely ardent sapphic clinch.