By Marty Mulrooney
Potiche is a French-Belgian comedy directed by François Ozon, starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu. Set during 1977 and based on the play of the same name by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Potiche tells the story of Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve), the ‘trophy housewife’ of wealthy umbrella factory owner Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini). When Robert’s factory workers go on strike due to unfair working conditions and take him hostage, Suzanne is forced to step in and manage the business herself. Taking everyone by surprise, she proves herself to be an assertive, resourceful and above all, fair boss. But when Robert returns, it immediately becomes clear that he has no intention whatsoever of allowing his wife to remain in charge…
Catherine Deneuve dazzles and delights in Potiche as a suppressed housewife who finally breaks free from the societal chains that bind her to become everything she is capable of and more. The film, which deals with the war between the sexes and the class divide in 1970s France, is delivered in a vibrant, tongue-in-cheek manner that is both delightful and infectious: it’s almost impossible not to have a good time as the plot thickens and unfolds on screen.
The story is simple but sweet, with the entire film essentially becoming a showcase for the class and charm of Catherine Deneuve, who rises to the occasion admirably. When Suzanne’s husband has a heart attack after a strike that has gotten well and truly out of hand, she takes charge of the family business and her children with often surprising results. Watching her in action, whether turning the tables on her husband or gradually gaining the respect of her family and her workers, is a joy. In a film that is admittedly rather slight at times, Deneuve adds some much needed gravitas.
The shooting style continually makes reference to the fact that Potiche is adapted from a play. The acting, lighting, costumes and sets are all slightly exaggerated and larger than life, lending themselves well to the comedic style that director François Ozon was obviously aiming for. The comedy isn’t overpowering yet neither is it understated: the balance feels just about right and the script proves sharp throughout. Those terrible Orange adverts, featuring scenes from Potiche with altered subtitles – shown recently in cinemas across the UK – do a disservice to the far more subtle and nuanced humour that runs throughout the film.
The supporting characters are all well cast, with Suzanne’s children – Judith Godrèche as Joëlle, her spoilt daughter and Jérémie Renier as Laurent, her sexually ambiguous son – raising additional laughs. Fabrice Luchini as Suzanne’s husband Robert steals the show in every scene he appears in, whether grabbing for his secretary’s rear or desperately trying to maintain authority over his factory workers and family. A rather alarmingly large looking Gérard Depardieu is superb as always in a rather limited supporting role as Maurice Babin, Suzanne’s ex-beau who still holds a flame for her.
Potiche is a camp, breezy film that remains extremely watchable throughout – camp being a somewhat appropriate word considering that it actually derives from the French slang term ‘se camper’, which means ‘to pose in an exaggerated fashion’. It isn’t a particularly deep or meaningful film, but it doesn’t ever try to be one either. Instead, it’s an exaggerated yet subtle comedy, gently delivered and full of charm. The sing-along at the end might take things a bit too far, but Potiche nonetheless remains a quirky, enjoyable watch.
8 OUT OF 10
AMO’s review copy of Potiche was provided on Blu-ray by Organic Marketing. Special features include: Interviews with Catherine Deneuve & François Ozon / Making Of / Bloopers / Test Costumes / Teaser Trailer
Potiche is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.