Catherine Deneuve’s accomplishments are many. Her performances have made countless indelible impressions on movie-goers since the 1960’s in such films as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Repulsion,” “The Last Metro,” “The Hunger,” “Dancer in the Dark” and many others. She is an icon in French cinema and is also well-respected in the U.S. (She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 1992’s “Indochine.”) Her experience is evident, even in a lighter role such as in “Potiche,” the latest film from director Francois Ozon.
“Potiche,” which means trophy wife in French, is about Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve,) the wife of successful businessman Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini). Robert is manager and majority owner in the family umbrella business. Suzanne stays busy–exercising, cooking when the servants are away and writing short poems when the whim strikes her. Robert, evidently a repeat philanderer, is having an affair with his assistant (Karin Viard). Suzanne’s adult children (played by Judith Dodreche and Jeremie Renier) also float in and out of the mix. After a series of incidents following the company’s striking workers, Robert must leave on holiday. While he is away, Suzanne negotiates with the union and assumes the leadership position of the company. She proves to be quite good. But then business and personal complications arrive in the form of her ex-lover (Gerard Depardieu), a leader in the local labor movement.
I recognize that my plot description above may seem a bit matter-of-fact. But this movie is great fun. I’ve simply given you the framework of “Potiche.” Layered on top of that structure are several fine comedic performances and a breezy directing style courtesy of Ozon. The film is like a cross between a French farce and the 1980’s melodramatic TV series “Dallas,” complete with hair styles and blouses from that era. Yes, the movie also has a conscience, with a strong message about women’s independence and carving out your own happiness in life. There’s also a lesson about the importance of good labor relations and respecting workers.
While Deneuve’s acting in “Potiche” is commanding (she doesn’t waste a movement or inflection,) her Suzanne is completely affable. We slowly get to know the character, and by the end of the movie, we’re simply eating out of her hand. I especially loved a scene where Suzanne hitches a ride from a truck driver. Once inside the cab of the truck, Deneuve’s facial expressions and eyes gave me the most satisfying laugh that I’ve had all year. Depardieu, Luchini, Viard and the rest of the cast are good as well.
“Potiche” may not qualify as high art, but as a buoyant movie with a message, and as a character study of a strong woman (albeit light), the movie succeeds.
Rating 3 out of 4 stars
2010, Rated R, 103 minutes, Comedy