If you can imagine Clare Booth Boothe Luce’s “The Women” turned into a movie script by a dotty Gallic Agatha Christie, leavened with songs by Edith Piaf and purely instrumental interludes by Bernard Herrmann, and brought to the screen by Ross Hunter with direction by Douglas Sirk’s gay younger brother, you might have some idea of what Francois Ozon’s “8 Women” is like. This female ensemble murder mystery musical soap opera is certainly one of the year’s oddest pictures. It’s also one of the year’s most beguiling films–just a piece of fluff, but a charming and colorful one, with a nice touch of spice in the mix.

It’s also a showcase for a host of the grandest of dames of French cinema, all brought together in a snowbound rural mansion. Catherine Deneuve is Gaby, haughty mistress of the place. Also present are Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), her unmarried sister, and their aged mother (Danielle Darrieux); Gaby’s two daughters, Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen), just returned from school, and the younger Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier), supposedly a bookworm; long-serving housekeeper Chanel (Firmine Richard); and newly-hired maid Louise (Emmanuelle Beart). The eighth woman is Pierrette (Fanny Ardant), who willingly admits her checkered past. Pierrette is also the sister of Gaby’s husband Marcel, but the man doesn’t participate much in the goings-on, seeing that he’s found murdered in his bedroom shortly after the picture begins. What follows the discovery of his body is part ad-hoc investigation (since the place is isolated by the snow and both telephone and car have been incapacitated, the usual inspector never arrives) but mostly self-revelation as the women disclose their deepest secrets. That’s mostly done through dialogue that’s frequently hilarious in its cattiness and encounters that are sometimes spontaneously sexual, but each woman is also allotted a song that summarizes her character; some are simple solos, others rousing dance numbers in which the singer’s fellows also participate. There’s a big twist at the end, not unlike the kind of supremely unlikely thing Christie would have pulled out of her hat, but it’s blissfully unimportant. What matters is the glow of the final curtain call that the eight actresses take before the word “Fin” appears against a black background. You’ll probably wish for an encore.

If one were in a bad mood, he might point out that “8 Women” is nothing more than a divertissement, completely devoid of weight or significance. Compared to Ozon’s last film, the superbly controlled and enigmatic “Under the Sand” (which featured a brilliant performance by another cinematic icon, Charlotte Rampling), it could be dismissed as an empty exercise in style and star-gazing. But who cares when the result is so delectable? It’s a joy to see these actresses- -especially the other ones–given the opportunity simply to let loose and vamp it up for the camera. All are quite wonderful, with Beart, Ardant and Darrieux standing out, but the prize surely must go to Huppert, who follows up her scathing turn in the scabrous “The Pianist” with a portrait of a sharp-tongued old-maid aunt that rivals Agnes Moorehead’s classic turn in “The Magnificent Ambersons.” The design of the picture is nearly as marvelous as the stars: production designer Arnaud de Moleron and costume designer Pascaline Chavanne also deserve a bow at the close for their brightly-colored, perfectly coordinated (and spectacularly artificial) compositions. Jeanne Lapoiric’s cinematography is also impressive, though the handling of the musical numbers isn’t always as confident as it might be: the camera cuts away from the performer too often, and dilutes the effect of some numbers by overuse of closeups when full-figure shots would be more effective.

But these are quibbles. In “8 Women” Ozon has confected a light, airy trifle that both mocks cinematic conventions and revels in them. The picture might not have much nutritive value, but it has the fizz of fine champagne and delivers a wonderful kick.