Film Review: “Potiche”

by Jason LeRoy on April 1, 2011

Catherine Deneuve and Fabrice Luchini in POTICHE.

starring: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Judith Godrèche, Jérémie Renier, Karin Viard

adapted and directed by: François Ozon

MPAA: Rated R for some sexuality.

Potiche is the latest droll French bauble from the wonderful François Ozon, here returning to the kind of colorfully kitschy pastiche he did so delightfully in 8 Women. Set in 1977, it stars Catherine Deneuve as Suzanne Pujol, the potiche (“trophy wife”) of Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), who rules her deceased father’s umbrella factory with a tight iron fist. (Deneuve. Umbrellas. Vous comprenez, non?)

But when Robert is taken captive by his outraged workers, Suzanne enlists an old Socialist fling named Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu, mais oui) to help resolve the situation. Then, after Robert becomes ill following the ordeal of his imprisonment, Suzanne becomes the acting president of the company, to the delight of her liberal son (Jérémie Renier) and the consternation of her conservative daughter (Judith Godrèche). But now that this potiche has tasted liberation and empowerment, will she be willing to just return to the shelf once Robert recovers?

From the opening shot of Deneuve jogging in a tracksuit and cooing at woodland creatures under a jaunty ’70s score, we know we’re in for a nostalgic good time. Potiche is an old-fashioned tale of second-wave feminist empowerment, filmed as an homage to films of that era. But French audiences will notice several parallels to more recent political figures; the film is unexpectedly topical in the U.S. as well, with its winking exploration of labor struggles and socialism.

The tone is satirical more than farcical, despite the presence of both a housekeeper and a secretary; only once does the film descend knowingly into classic French farce, when Robert has “one of his attacks” at home while surrounded by nearly the entire cast. And what a cast it is. While it is always a thrill to see Deneuve and Depardieu sharing the big screen, this is definitely Deneuve’s movie. She is beautiful and elegant as ever, expertly suggesting hidden layers of her character through twinkling eyes and knowing expressions. It is tempting to suggest that there is little difference between comedic Deneuve and dramatic Deneuve, but that is because her mastery of subtlety is unparalleled.

Most importantly, Potiche gives us the distinct thrill of watching Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu disco-dancing together. And really, what more could you possibly ask for from a French comedy?

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victor enyutin September 6, 2011 at 10:00 pm

“Potiche” (“Trophy Wife” – 2010) by Francois Ozon is set in a French provincial town in 1977 when Ozon was just ten years old. To make this film seems important for the director to come to grasp what are the results of his dedication to cinema after twenty years of a successful career. “Potiche” is Ozon’s “adieu” to French cinema as an art of addressing life as a whole (not just particular problems of life). Ozon himself never was part of that cinema – he was too young when that kind of cinematic art was at its peak, secondly, he needed to resolve for himself in his films number of specific existential problems, but also because it’s very difficult for the director to overcome the commercial appeal of cinema.
Making “Potiche” was for Ozon even more important than overcoming the fact that he wasn’t able to make this kind of film (addressing life in its wholeness) before. “Potiche” is also Ozon’s nostalgic “adieu” to artistic cinema with political awareness (not just a political film). It is a film about life making political aspect of life naturally present and named as such (not just hinted or connotatively suggested). Ozon wasn’t able to make this kind of film before.
In a way, as a director and a thinker Ozon was always a “potiche” of European cinema – never addressed life in its wholeness that could include political aspect with “existentialist” naturality. Only now, with this film of 2010 Ozon is psychologically and artistically strong enough to overcome these two limitations and to become the real, albeit, a nostalgic inheritor of a cinema that has almost stopped to exist (Godard and Resnais are the last living giants of that kind of cinematic art).
We, today’s film-viewers are given by Francois Ozon the chance – through watching his “Potiche” not just to pay tribute to what is culturally out of wide attention (cinema concerned with life and its political aspect more than with commercial appeal) but in following his example of trying to resurrect serious cinema to start to demand from filmmakers and producers to bring it back.

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