Reviewed by GREG KING
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Frabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Gerard Depardieu.
This sophisticated and witty comedy about business, politics and the dynamics of a dysfunctional family was the opening night attraction at this year’s French Film Festival, and it is a real crowd pleaser.
Catherine Deneuve finds one of her best roles for some time here as Suzanne, a stay at home sixtysomething housewife who is married to the smarmy, scheming and philandering Robert (Fabrice Luchini). It transpires that he married her for the family inheritance, the umbrella factory that he now runs with an iron fist. When the workers go on strike and take Robert hostage, Suzanne steps in to negotiate a truce. No longer willing to sit at home and play the trophy wife, Suzanne takes over the running of the business. She employs her two children to help with the day to day operations. And she even wins over Robert’s secretary/mistress (Karin Viard) as a loyal ally to help implement some changes to the business. But that is just the start, and nicely sets the scene for some unexpected complications in the third act.
Potiche is based on a popular French farce written by Jean-Pierre Gredy and Pierre Barillet. Francois Ozon directs the material with a playful touch, capturing the tone of those screwball comedies popular in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s even a sly nod in the direction of Deneuve’s classic The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. Given his penchant for often shocking audiences, he handles Potiche with unusual restraint. He makes the most of the 70’s retro style settings, 70’s disco hits, and the kitsch production design that is all pastels and bright colours. The film is also an examination of the plight of women in the 70’s who wanted to shake off their submissive roles and play a more active role outside the home.
Deneuve has appeared in several of Ozon’s films, but this is her first appearance since 8 Women nearly a decade ago. She lends her luminous presence to the film, and brings a hidden strength, fire, intelligence, warmth and passion to her performance as the frustrated and sheltered housewife no longer willing to sit at home.
In a smaller supporting role as Babin, a communist-leaning politician and former flame of Suzanne’s, Gerard Depardieu has a twinkle in his eye and brings a light tough to the role. Both Deneuve and Depardieu are stalwarts of French cinema and the scenes they share together crackle with nostalgic touches of their shared film history – after all, this is the eighth time they have appeared together on screen.
Luchini is good at playing weaselly, sleazy and unsympathetic characters, and he is very good here in a role that veers close to caricature.
Potiche is lightweight and frothy comedy with broad appeal.