out of Five
Running time: 103
Stylishly directed and frequently hilarious, this is a hugely enjoyable French farce with a witty script and terrific performances from Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu.
What's it all about?
Directed by Francois Ozon, Potiche (which means “trophy wife”, though without the implied glamour of the translation) is set in 1977 and stars Catherine Deneuve as Suzanne Pujol, the repressed, long-suffering wife of controlling husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini), who runs her late father's umbrella factory. When Robert takes a leave of absence after being kidnapped by his own workers, Suzanne steps in to run the company and soon gets a taste for her new job, forging a strong bond with Maurice (Gerard Depardieu), a union-friendly local politician she once had an affair with.
Deneuve is wonderful as Suzanne, delivering a fabulous performance that makes you wish that she'd make more comedies: an early sequence has her jogging in her distinctive tracksuit (as seen on the posters) and looking like she's about to burst into song and the smile that that scene puts on your face basically stays there till the end of the film. She also has delightful chemistry with Depardieu (Potiche marks their seventh onscreen pairing) and there's terrific support from Luchini (a dab-hand at pompous patrician types), Jeremie Renier (as Suzanne's “artistic” son) and Karen Viard, who steals every scene with a very funny turn as Robert's equally long-suffering secretary-slash-mistress.
Though the film is adapted from a 1980 play (with a slightly superfluous third act tacked on), Ozon has a lot of fun pastiching 1970s French farce and the production design is delightfully detailed throughout, from the browns and oranges of the furniture to the terrible suits and 70s hairstyles (Suzanne's daughter sports a particularly fetching Farrah Fawcett 'do). The soundtrack is fabulous too and there are subtle nods to films such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
The fast-paced script is excellent and the dialogue is frequently laugh-out-loud funny (“Monsieur! By coming here to blackmail me, you have made me the happiest man on earth!”). In addition, though the film is clearly satirising the sexual politics, sexist attitudes, class conflicts and workplace practices of the 1970s and 1980s, there are a lot of subtle, thought-provoking barbs aimed at today's society too (Ozon has said, for example, that the film was partly inspired by the defeat of Segolene Royale at the 2007 French Presidential elections).
Potiche is a stylishly directed, brilliantly written and superbly acted French farce that's both thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended.