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François Ozon

The Mystery of the Eight Divas


- The young Parisian director is in Rome to present his latest film, 8 Women starring the Gotha of French female cinema

The eight stars of Frenchman, François Ozon’s latest film 8 Women attract, seduce, love and hate and gradually transform themselves into as many vicious and deadly harpies.
After the death of the father in Sitcom and the disappearance of a husband in Beneath the Sand, the young French director proceeds with his passion for “eliminating” male leads from his films, even though 8 Women represents a radical change for Ozon since it is a musical comedy. There is more. Ozon crosses the limits imposed by genres and makes full use of the ways and means of filmmaking by mixing and overturning styles. As a result, 8 Women is not a film that can be simply classified as a comedy, noir or melodrama.
Ozon, who drew inspiration from a 70s play, has made a film that is full of undertones, and he makes no effort to disguise an obvious tribute to French and American cinema – its films, filmmakers and actors – by means of this ingeniously simple story. Eight women from very different backgrounds come together in a grand house. There are two sisters (Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve), two daughters (Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Seigner), one matriarch (Danielle Darrieux), one sister-in-law (Fanny Ardant) and two maidservants (Emmanuelle Béart and Firmine Richard). One of them has murdered the owner of the house – by stabbing him in the back.
The 34-year-old director exalts the beauty and talent of his eight stars, and turns them into as many ancient and modern heroines who can sing and dance the most famous French timeless hits, from Dalida’s “Pour ne pas vivre seule” to Sylvie Vartan’s “Toi, jamais.” Ozon tells us about his mysterious women.
It could not have been easy for you handling some of the greatest actresses of French cinema...

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Was there any rivalry?
“No. Absolutely none. Each of them wanted to work with the others and accepted the fact that none was the absolute star. They were extremely collaborative during the filming process.”

It seems that the screenplay created carefully measured roles...
“The text which inspired the film was also very measured. I refer to Robert Thomas’ play, he is a specialist in adapting Agatha Christie’s novels. I must admit that I had to use a generous dose of democracy during the shooting, in order to ensure that each protagonist had her very own special moment in the spotlight. And that is why I used music and songs: that enabled each of them to be the absolute protagonist for at least three minutes.”

These songs are all very intense moments in the film. Did you really only use them for democratic reasons?
“Not really, if truth be told. Not being professional singers or dances, during those moments they had to put on their actress’s masks and losing control, they demonstrated their essence and all of their intrinsic fragility.”

Rather perverse, like the kiss between Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve...
“That is true. I must admit it. There was an element of perversion on my part, although it was linked to a desire to pay tribute to François Truffaut. Both of them were his actresses prior to becoming romantically involved with him.”

But this is not the only homage to that director, since you even mention him at one point...
“Yes, Catherine Deneuve says the same lines from two of Truffaut’s films she starred in, La mia droga si chiama Julie and The Last Metro. This is what she said to the two male leads, Jean Paul Belmondo and Gérard Depardieu: “Being with you is for me both joy and suffering.”

You tend to favour women and elimate men in your films. What is it about women that you prefer?
“The mystery. I find them interesting. Perhaps being a man allows me to observe them with more detachment and objectivity. As a director, I find that actresses tend to be more intelligent than their male counterparts. They are open to all challenges, risks and they also understand their characters faster.”

According to you why did eight of the most famous actresses of French cinema decide to work in your film?
“I knew some of them quite well and knew that they wanted to work with me. I think that the success I had with Beneath the Sand, a film that brought a middle-aged actress like Charlotte Rampling back to the forefront of public attention, influenced their decision. It is never easy for an actress to show her age on the screen and run the risk of being criticised. But as I said earlier on, women are stronger and more courageous.”

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