Potiche

Review by Martyn Conterio @Cinemartyn

Directed by

François Ozon

Starring

Catherine Deneuve Fabrice Luchini Gérard Depardieu

Anticipation.

Deneuve reunited with Depardieu in a new François Ozon film. Should be great.

Enjoyment.

Carry on Ozon!

In Retrospect.

A warm-hearted story of a woman’s rise in a man’s world belies a biting satire.

A warm-hearted story of a woman’s rise in a man’s world belies a biting satire.

‘Potiche’ is, quite fittingly, a French term for a trophy wife. Fittingly because in many ways Catherine Deneuve has been a trophy actress – an ornament of beauty and glamour on which to hang a film. François Ozon’s latest is a story centred on the emancipation and political awakening of a housewife in 1970s France and differs from 2009’s The Refuge in just about every respect. Here, we’re served a farce with copious amounts of kitsch. The lightness, however, plays counterpoint to serious themes which culminate in a deeply satirical denouement.

The funky opening credit sequence features one of France’s most iconic actresses dressed in a garish red tracksuit jogging through the grounds of her idyllic country pile acknowledging the birds, the squirrels, the shagging rabbits, while stopping to jot down glib inspirations for her poetry. Is this a case of Carry On Ozon?

Despite the material trappings of wealth Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) realises her life is empty – she ruefully describes herself as the ‘queen of kitchen appliances’. Her husband Robert, played to snarling perfection by Fabrice Luchini, is an aggressive capitalist with a dismissive attitude to his employees and his own family.

The union demand better pay, an eight-hour working day, more holidays and a proper toilet – not just a ‘Turkish-style’ hole in the ground. These antagonisms and the subsequent impasse allow Madame Pujol to become the patronising, but well-meaning, new manager. Her light touch brings about cordial relations and improved production output. Naturally her husband sees this as an attempt to usurp his position as the boss of everybody.

It’s the kind of film where communists and capitalists are equal targets for mockery. Potiche isn’t Ozon reawakening the Dziga Vertov Group. It’s not Godard’s Tout va Bien, no matter the set up. There is, however, a vague inkling that the director is pointing to a moment in modern history where, perhaps, PR-led campaigns began to outweigh serious debate and politics became a popularity contest.

Closing the film with a musical number in which Madame Pujol sings about becoming the mother of France is alarming, and perhaps much darker than it may first appear. Potiche is satire masquerading as broad comedy. Suzanne Pujol is another in a long line of strong, complex women in Ozon’s work. Gérard Depardieu is on fine comic form as the local commie mayor, Babin, who had a Lady Chatterley-style affair with Suzanne back in the day. Every minute of screen time they share is an utter delight, not least their disco scene.

But it’s Deneuve who stands in the spotlight, giving a storming performance as a woman whose empowerment and political aims might not be as benign as first thought. Towards the end, a disgruntled Mayor Babin walks away from a television crew filming his new political rival, telling them he wants no part of her ‘personality cult’. There’s real sting to this sweet tale.

Published 17 Jun 2011

Tags: Catherine Deneuve François Ozon Gérard Depardieu

Anticipation.

Deneuve reunited with Depardieu in a new François Ozon film. Should be great.

Enjoyment.

Carry on Ozon!

In Retrospect.

A warm-hearted story of a woman’s rise in a man’s world belies a biting satire.

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