Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard
Francois Ozon, Jean-Pierre Gredy, Pierre Barillet
Music Box Films
There's not much more you can expect from Potiche, French writer/director Francois Ozon's breezy and entertaining comedy starring cinematic legends Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Deneuve portrays in the film a potiche, or trophy wife, who steps in to manage an umbrella factory run by her steely, tyrannical husband (Fabrice Luchini) after he's taken hostage by striking workers. Much to everyone's surprise, this potiche proves to be a competent and assertive leader, setting up quite the complication when her husband eventually returns from a restful cruise and is ready to get back into action.
Based upon a 70's hit comic play, Potiche is set in a 1977 French provincial town and exudes a sort of 70's style mentality and environment. The effort of both Deneuve and Depardieu in pulling off these characters is seemingly effortless, performances so light and natural and radiating of human warmth that I'm fairly sure most will see this as nothing more than a fairly vacant, easygoing comedy.
Yet, there's something wondrous about Deneuve, simultaneously a woman who has built herself a rather safe and sterile world where she's compartmentalized her husband's affair with his secretary while simply existing herself within a bubble. When she is forced to be assertively part of life again, it is as if something within her is born and it's not so much that she "becomes" this assertive and intelligent woman as she simply reverts to her true self. It's a shift that few actresses could have pulled off convincingly, however, Deneuve pulls it off without ever seeming as if she's acting.
Gerard Depardieu is here as a French mayor with whom Deneuve works to resolve the worker's complaints and to free her husband and, at least on some level, undo the damage that he has done to the umbrella factory that was, in fact, once owned by her own father. The genuine comfort and affection between Depardieu and Deneuve is marvelous, perhaps a creation of their mutual iconic stature in French cinema and their having worked together on eight films.
Some will find Potiche a tad confining, mostly owing to its stage beginnings and a story that is tailor made for stage production. While Ozon diversifies the film's settings from its stage production, he never quite solves the overall "stage" feeling of the entire production and the overall feeling that the film is ever so slightly padded to make it work on the big screen.
Rated R for some sexual situations, Potiche is a French language film with English subtitles. Currently on the indie arthouse circuit, Potiche is universal enough in its themes and dialogue that it would serve as a great intro to French cinema for less adventurous moviegoers who've not really experimented with watching subtitles on the big screen.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic