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Drôles d’invitées* Posted by on Dec 13, 2016 in Culture, Vocabulary

Le temps des fêtes (holiday season) is just about my favorite time of year. At my house we love to really get into it and decorate which . . . when you do it the way we do . . . takes some time! While we decorate, we like to watch movies that put us in the holiday mood. And while most are American classics, there’s one French movie that always makes its way into our holiday rotations.

Un manoir français en hiver. / A grand French manor house in winter. ^

Based on a 1958 pièce de théâtre policière (a play with a crime at it’s core), 8 Femmes (8 Women) is not your typical holiday movie. Directed by the French réalisateur (director) François Ozon, the film is a candy-colored mix of Agatha Christie, Sex and the City, and Salvador Dali. It lives somewhere between film policier / film à énigme et humour noire (crime drama / mystery and black comedy) but it manages to capture a certain air of anticipation and holiday. Perhaps that’s because – like a French Baz Luhrmann – Ozon has turned the 1950’s piece (play) into a modern movie musical, putting by turn classic and contemporary songs in the mouth’s of his incomparable cast of French actresses.

And what a bunch of actrices (actresses)! As you might guess from the name of the film, the cast of 8 Femmes is exclusively feminine and features some of France (and the world’s) greatest actresses. From younger stars like Emmanuelle Beart, Ludvine Saigner, and Virginie Ledoyen, to Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Huppert, Firmine Richard, and Catherine Deneuve, and even the great Danielle Darrieux, it is a veritable whose who of French and international cinema.

The story – which takes place over a snowy winter’s day (and night) in the 1950’s – unfolds at a magnificent French manoir (manner house) decorated for Christmas. The setting has a lot to do with the “holiday” feel to be sure . . . despite the pressence of a dead body! The setting is also instrumental in advancing the plot as 8 Femmes is also a classic example of a genre known as huis clos.** The term in itself is a little hard to translate into English but literally means “closed doors” or “behind closed doors“. In legal terms, a hearing that takes place à huis clos is one that takes place without any public presence. In the arts, a story which takes place à huis clos*** is one that takes place in a single location from which, generally, the characters cannot leave . . . like in many films d’horreur ou films d’énigme (horror of murder mystery films).

If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, I hope you’ll consider adding 8 Femmes to your holiday rotation . . . or at least to your list of “must see” French films. If you’re not convinced yet, here’s a sample to tempt you.

* The expression “drôle de” means “funny” but in the sense of “odd” or “interesting” or “not quite right” or even “weird“. It is used here to to mean “strange” . . . “Drôles d’invitées” would thus be “Strange guests“.
** We tend to think of ‘une porte’ as ‘door’ in French, and it is. But ‘une porte’ is made up of both frame and ‘le huis’ which is the part of the door that moves.
*** The most famous is perhaps the existentialist play “Huis Clos” by Jean-Paul Sartre, the essence of which is sometimes summarized as ‘l’Enfer est les autres‘ (‘Hell is other people.“)

Photo Credits:
^ By Allex Langié (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
^^ By Compagnie Jean GILLET, Gérardmer, France (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris