8 Women and True Lies

No review of Barbershop here, I’m afraid, despite the fact that it

remained at the top of the box-office chart

for the second week running last weekend. It was my girlfriend’s birthday,

so she got to choose, and she chose 8

Women instead. (She’s got a thing about French movies.) As it happened,

we’d seen True Lies on

DVD the night before, and, to my astonishment, the two films actually

have quite a lot in common.

Never mind the fact that both films are chock-full of knowing references

for the film-buff crowd, albeit references to very different sets of

movies. Ultimately, both films are hugely enjoyable romps which venture

deep into camp but which still maintain an extremely high standard in

their set-pieces. Pastiche is all too often played for cheap, broad

laughs; in these films, it’s combined with a genuine love of, and ability

in, the genre pastiched.

I’m not sure which film would have been harder to make. On the one

hand, François Ozon had to deal with eight superstars, all of

whom needed – and received – loving attention. I fear to think,

for instance, of how long it took to film the scene where Emmanuelle

Béart lets down her hair, transforming herself into a latter-day

Marilyn; or of the time spent setting up the lighting for the shot where

Fanny Ardant, a wry smile on her face, smokes in the corner by the velvet

drapes while watching a classic performance by Catherine Deneuve.

On the other hand, the stunts in True Lies are amazing. Think of Jamie

Lee Curtis dangling from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arm, who himself is

dangling upside-down off a helicopter silhouetted against the setting

sun. Or the pair of Harrier jump jets firing two missiles each at a

low causeway, which then explode – one! two! three! four! –

each just behind the escaping truck, except the last, which sends the

truck flying up into the air along with a section of road. Either of

these shots, or any of half a dozen others, probably cost more than

the entire budget for 8 Women, and would have taken weeks to set up.

For if it takes a lot of skill to pull off the kind of couture-fest

which we see in 8 Women, it surely takes just as much to be able to

blow things up with quite the aplomb of James Cameron. Great pure action

films are rare indeed: Die

Hard would have to be on the list, of course, and Speed,

but I’m not sure that Raiders

of the Lost Ark really counts, or even James Cameron’s own Aliens.

(I would include Starship

Troopers on the list, however.)

Both 8 Women and True Lies pull off a very difficult balancing act:

they’re ridiculous enough that we laugh, but accomplished enough that

we don’t laugh at them. We laugh just because we’re having a

rollicking good time and because the films have transcended the unbelievable.

We love to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger play a world-class tango dancer,

just as we relish the super-exaggerated plot twists in 8 Women. But

we also genuinely admire whoever came up with the idea of Arnold riding

a horse up a hotel elevator, just as we can often barely bring ourselves

to read the subtitles in 8 Women, the performances are so magnetic.

Both of these films are highly derivative, and both of them are all

the better for it. So do what Arnold should have done in that elevator:

get off your high horse and enjoy the ride. Have some fun!

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