François Ozon’s Potiche feels for all the world like it’s adapted from a 1970s European stage farce. And it is. And it turns out that’s a good thing. Broad, silly and colorful but with a feminist edge that’s still sharp enough to cut, it’s a light (but not slight) romp of a time capsule almost completely powered by the somewhat surprising comic energy of the wonderful Catherine Deneuve. What more do you really need?

Potiche is a French word that translates roughly into English as “trophy wife.” As Suzanne the potiche in question, Deneuve is of the generation that narrowly missed the women’s rights movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s her job to look pretty and support her philandering pig of a husband (Fabrice Luchini) who now runs her father’s manufacturing firm. Being wealthy, she doesn’t even have housework to occupy her time so she spends her days staying fit, writing bad poetry and doting on her two grown children (Judith Godrëche and Dardenne Brothers favorite Jérémie Renier) who don’t really need her anymore.

Suzanne at first seems too blind to be dissatisfied with her lot, but when her incompetent husband falls ill while bungling the company’s negotiations with the increasingly militant worker’s union (led by Gerard Depardieu), she steps in with a refreshing human touch and is able to rescue her father’s company from the brink of disaster. It seems Suzanne has unplumbed depths and talents (not to mention several secrets of her own) and her newfound success gives her the confidence to pursue even more, much to the irritation of her husband who is used to having her under his thumb.

Suzanne’s arc from potiche to woman in charge drives the story through the misunderstandings, slammed doors and generally silly (but amusing) goings on, and it’s Deneuve in turn who makes Suzanne work.  She’s known best, especially in the US, for her dramatic work but her comic timing is flawless. She sparkles in Potiche and appears to be having a blast.

In the early going, her clueless character risks losing the audience’s sympathy. She’s not exactly spoiled, but her life certainly isn’t rough in a material way. It would be hard to feel bad for her, but Deneuve has an incredibly sweetness and she wins you over right away. Once Suzanne starts to make her unlikely transformation, the actress sells it. She’s a butterfly spreading her wings and her inner strength is more than just a plot device, it’s rooted in the character as Deneuve conveys her from the very start. It’s the humanity and the humor she brings that makes Potiche more than the silly trifle it could’ve been.

The style of comedy in Potiche might not be to every taste, but for those who get into its farcical groove, it’s frequently very funny. It’s so passé, it’s actually funny again. Besides, it’s hard not getting pulled in when it’s Deneuve in top comic form.

Potiche. (France 2010 – US release 2011). Directed by Francois Ozon from the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy. Cinematography by Yorick Le Saux. Edited by Laure Gardette. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier. 1 hour 43 minutes. MPAA rated R for some sexuality. 4.5 stars (out of 5)

10 Responses to “Potiche (2011)”

  1. wow, high rating. xD Expectations have gone up. Trailer looked good… I wonder when I will be able to watch this. xD

    I wonder if there’s a French DVD version out already.

  2. If you like Deneuve (and who doesn’t?) it’s hard for me to imagine you not liking this BUT… it is kind of silly and comes across as a bit of a trifle. Deneuve is so great in it though.

  3. As a rabid fan of Ozon and Deneuve’s prior collaboration 8 WOMEN, I’ve been waiting for Ozon to return to those heights. This sounds like a return to form, and it’s about time. Can’t wait to see this.

  4. “Broad, silly and colorful but with a feminist edge that’s still sharp enough to cut, it’s a light (but not slight) romp of a time capsule almost completely powered by the somewhat surprising comic energy of the wonderful Catherine Deneuve. What more do you really need?”

    Indeed Craig. I am definitely a fan of the farsical underpinnings you attest to here and I am a long-time fan of Ozon’s work, particularly his 2005 TIME TO LEAVE, but also CRIMINAL LOVERS, SWIMMING POOL, 8 WOMEN and WATER DROPS ON BURNING ROCKS. Of course it goes without saying that Deneuve is a treasure and any impening collaboration with Ozon is a must-see. The film has received solid reviews, and I am delighted that you have even gone a bit further in this altogether wonderful essay. Lucille will be there sometime on Sunday.

  5. Paul and Sam, I hope you like it. I think it fits right in there with 8 Women though some of the negative reviews give me pause.

    We shall see.

  6. I first heard about this film when I stumbled across a Charlie Rose interview with Deneuve. The segment showcased Deneuve at her intelligent, scintillating best — she is a fascinating woman — and also featured several long clips. During the interview she emphasized, in a way that suggests she really means it, how she enjoys working with Depardieu. I was impressed by her comic abilities on display in the clips. The film looks quite enjoyable, even despite Depardieu’s cowhide-faced, ox-like presence.

    I’ll take Deneuve any hour of the day, any day of the week. She seems to have evolved very well both as an actress and as a person.

  7. Now that I’ve seen Potiche, I”m here to report on its charms as voiced by Craig. Although it’s a tad difficult to buy Deneuve jogging down country lanes in a track suit, she really does sell it. The script, despite its silly qualities, is certainly as good and better than It’s Complicated or Something’s Gotta Give (though Depardieu’s bulk exceeds Alec Baldwin and Jack Nicholson put together).

    Quite enjoyable.

  8. During the opening, I was kind of going “uh oh” this is going to be painful, but Deneuve just made it work.

  9. Only mere mortals jog, and Deneuve is no mere mortal.

  10. Deneuve glides.

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