Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Movies of My Life #2

We all have movies we love, and movies to which we feel a particular closeness. Most of these movies are legitimately great, but our love for them transcends quality. Sometimes, these movies are widely loved, and as such they become a common currency among all those who love them. Such was the case with the subject of my first "Movies of My Life" column back in December, Back to the Future. However, it's not like this for all the movies we love. Occasionally, we feel close to movies that no one else seems to love as much as we do, or at least no one we know. For me, the best example of this is François Ozon's 2002 film, 8 Women.

I first read about the film in early 2002 in Film Comment. I had been a fan of Ozon's film Under the Sand previously, but my interest in the film was only mildly due to his involvement. Much more of a factor for me was the film's cast, a veritable who's-who of French leading ladies- Danielle Darrieux, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, and particularly Catherine Deneuve, who was my favorite then as now. In the months leading up to the film, I read up on it as much as I could, and occasionally checked out reviews of the film- carefully though, so I wouldn't spoil my first viewing. The film's reception was fairly warm overall, although high marks from the notoriously tough Mike D'Angelo gave me a lot of hope.

As the film's U.S. release drew closer, I remember talking about 8 Women to all of my friends, and when I did this I noticed that they didn't share my enthusiasm for it. They sometimes concurred that it could be good, but they really weren't all that excited to see it. But while I was a little taken aback by their apathy, I wasn't about to let them bring me down. I signed off work on the Friday it was getting released here. I asked the manager of the local arthouse if I could have the one-sheet once they'd finished with it. Hell, in the week before the movie's local release I tried to watch one movie by each of 8 Women's leading ladies. I almost succeeded too, but for my inability to find anything with Firmine Richard, but I still remember the other movies I watched that week- Merci Pour le Chocolat (Huppert), Nelly et M. Arnaud (Béart), Confidentially Yours (Ardant), La Ronde (Darrieux), A Single Girl (Virginie Ledoyen), Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Ludivine Sagnier), and of course Belle de Jour (Deneuve). As far as I was concerned, 8 Women was destined to be awesome.

And do you know what? It was. I was practically the only one in the theatre on the Friday afternoon in mid-December when I first saw 8 Women, but I didn't care one bit. The movie was as I'd imagined it, only better. Every song was a joy, every delicious turn of the plot a pleasure, and the melancholy final scene nearly did me in. When I walked out of the auditorium after the end credits rolled, I knew there was only one thing to do. I walked right up to the box office and bought a ticket to the next show, something I was prone to doing occasionally in those days, back when I had time for it. So began my 8 Women-fueled high, and all told, I saw 8 Women four times in the week and a half it played in Columbus, and would no doubt have seen it many more times had I gotten the chance.

At the same time, the apathy I'd sensed from those I'd spoken with about the film prior to its release had infected the local press. The critic for the Columbus Dispatch gave it a respectful three-star review, but others weren't so kind. A snarky-ass article (I wouldn't even call it a review) in The Other Paper dismissed it as "a movie for and about drag queens" and spent much of the allotted word count discussing the viability of a Hollywood remake, as if it was Three Men and a Cradle or something. I began to wonder how they could miss the delights I'd seen in the film, nearly all of which had presented themselves to me on that first viewing.

So I did the first thing that came to mind- I wrote about 8 Women, again and again. I toyed with the idea of dashing off a tirade about shitty alt-weekly critics who care more about getting laughs from their readers than they do about giving films a fair shake (still a topic worth considering, mind you), but I decided against it. Instead, I threw my energy into writing about the film itself, not just my original review of the film itself, but tributes/mash notes to both Huppert and Sagnier, as well as shorter odes to the film on every top 10 list I had I chance to contribute for the year. All told, I'd say I wrote as much about 8 Women as I've written about any movie I've seen, before or since. And in the process, my love for the film became almost possessive, as though it was practically "my movie."

Then a funny thing happened- for a few years, I became anxious about revisiting the film. For whatever reason, I imagined that my love for the film had been all out of proportion with its actual quality, that maybe my desire for it to be awesome caused me to see the film with hopeful, enthusiastic eyes, and that in the process I lost my ability to see it objectively. Could it be that the naysayers were- gasp- right after all?

Finally, I decided just to watch the film again, to put my anxieties to rest. And I'll be damned if the movie wasn't as great as it had ever been. Watching it with new eyes was a strange yet wonderful experience for me. That initial rush was gone, but if anything the increased objectivity had given me a greater respect for what the film was doing (compare the gushing tone of my original review to the Movie Moment column I devoted to the film last March). At the same time, I was better able to see why not everyone shared my love for the film. For me, it's irresistible, but it's also a strange creature, a blissed-out mashup of Agatha Christie and dinner-theatre production numbers. It's got plenty to groove on for both francophiles and actressexuals, but it's also clearly not for everyone.

And do you know what? I'm OK with that. Some movies are made more or less for everyone, and others only for those who are on the film's wavelength. I still hope for the day when I meet other people with whom I can quote dialogue or who will pick up on when I'm humming "Papa t'es Plus Dans l'Coup" or "A Quoi Sert le Vivre Libre." But such things are incidental to how I feel about the movie. Whether others share my love for it, 8 Women will always feel like my movie. And with the movies we love, isn't that what truly matters?



What a perfect column to highlight the movie's exuberant wonders... I haven't seen it since it first came out on DVD, and this reminded me to re-watch it. The Sagnier number is tremendous.

Victor said...

Unfortunately Paul, 8 WOMEN is only the second-best 2002 movie featuring Isabelle Huppert as a hypercontrolled spinster who plays the piano.

Paul C. said...

Depends on how you look at it, bud. According to Theo's history project, The Piano Teacher is a 2001 film, even though it came out in the States in 2002.

More importantly, I love that shot of her hands as she starts to play the piano. Specifically, I love the way Ozon frames it to make it look like an old movie in which the star obviously isn't doing her own playing. Watch the scene again and you'll notice that we never actually see her hands and her face in the same image, despite the fact that we all know she can play. Small touches like this are a big reason why I love this film so.

Victor said...

BTW, I forget ... did you see ANGEL at Toronto? If you didn't ... it's in English, has no music and doesn't feature any legendary French actresses. But other than that, it's pretty similar to 8 WOMEN.

I'm being less facetious than that sounds, it really does cover a lot of the same emotional terrain and is another well-perfumed Ozon re-creation of a past genre.

Paul C. said...

No, I left before Angel played there, which sort of pissed me off, since I'd heard good things about it. Chris told me about it too, and his remarks were more or less the same as yours. I wonder if it had a distributor.

Victor said...

As far as I know, ANGEL does not have a distributor, and it's one of several films (also YOU THE LIVING, e.g.) that I check periodically because they'd easily make my running Top 10 right now if they did. I wonder why not ... the Andersson I understand, but the Ozon is quite accessible and can be sold on "old-school" "British literary" terms.

Anyhoo ... to 8 WOMEN. You're right that the best emotional moment in the movie is Huppert's number, and how she turns on a dime jumping "into" and "out of" "character" as easily as Robert DeNiro gains and loses 50 pounds.

Victor said...

Looking up my Skandies ballot for 2002 ... I gave 8 WOMEN as a whole the #9 slot and 5 points; Huppert #3 and 15; Ozon's script #2 and 15; and the "Papa, Papa, Papa" song scene a 9-way tie for #2 and 9 points.

Craig Kennedy said...

What a great movie-going experience all around. For starters, it's amazing the film was able to live up to the weight of your expectations. You were just asking for disappointment there and the movie still delivered.

Also, I completely understand your hesitance to revisit a movie you loved. What if you don't like it as much? It'll ruin the original perfect experience which would be a sad disaster. So great that you approached it again and it still delivered.

As for "shitty alt-weekly" critics, you should definitely write that tirade. Name names. Throw in shitty internet critics while you're at it. These people are among the handful of reasons I decided to start writing about movies myself. They're cancer.

Any way, great post. It puts me in a movie loving frame of mind and reminds me to catch a movie I'd previously let slip through the cracks.

Adam Villani said...

Aww man... I'm working on getting used to visiting you on this blog, and then you write this lovely, heartfelt paean to a movie I absolutely hated. I feel like a jerk for mentioning it here. Somehow I *didn't* feel like a jerk for mentioning it over on Vic's blog... hmm...

Not sure what "my movie" would be. The problem is that the movie that I've probably received the most pleasure from over the course of my life also has a zillion other fans... THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Less of a huge hit but still pretty well-liked is AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD. Either one of those, I could just stop and watch at any time.

Paul C. said...

Don't feel too bad, Adam. It's like I said in the piece- it's clearly not a movie for everybody. We all have our sweet spots and our blind spots when it comes to movies, and this just happens to be in the latter category for you and the former for me. It happens, no big deal.

Perhaps your reaction to the piece had something to do with the nature of the piece itself, as it had less to do with the film than with my personal history with it. Victor's, by contrast, was more a re-evaluation of the film itself.

Victor said...

As Paul says, I was writing about 8 WOMEN in a less-personal mode than he was. But one of the things I was trying to get at is exactly what he said about its not being a movie for everybody.

It IS a daffy, stylized collection of stick figures with only a remote relationship to ordinary human behavior or psychology (on the surface anyway). You really have to accept the surface absurdity and I could tell when I watched it with audiences that some people just couldn't go with its flow.

On the other hand ...

The Villani, The