Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Jeremie Renier and Judith Godreche
Director/Scriptwriter: Francois Ozon from the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredys
Music Box Films
French Language (subtitled)
Rating: R for themed material and sexuality
Running Length: 104 minutes
Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu can do a day’s acting lesson with facial expressions. In this French farce, set in the 1970’s, Deneuve (Suzanne) plays a “potiche,” or trophy wife to Fabrice Luchini (Robert), the owner of an umbrella factory. Having a beautiful wife, who is skilled in being a hostess and cooking, is what Fabrice wants, until he becomes ill and then who will take over the factory? In the meantime, Depardieu (Maurice) is the mayor of the town and takes aim at Robert, the factory and workers. Must have proper working conditions, you know. Such is the plot of this film, written and directed by Francois Ozon who also did Eight Women.
The plot has Robert flirting with the secretarial staff at his umbrella factory, and king of the house, with his wife, daughter and son (Jeremie Renier) at his beck and command. He gets what he wants with the snap of his fingers and they have an elegant life style. In the meantime, the mayor is campaigning and at odds with Robert. When tension causes Robert to have a mild heart attack and stay home to rest (a pampered rest, to be sure), wife Suzanne quietly decides to run the factory in his absence. After all, her late father started the business. In no time at all, her decision are seen to be diplomatic and even kind, and the factory moves ahead in new directions (a line of raincoats designed by the son, for example) and the daughter is trying to decide whether to work or stay home with her family. When Suzanne and Maurice have a moment alone, we discover an affection from long ago, plus differences that cause them to campaign against each other for the same job. His brisk style against her cultured one. Who will win? And will the husband now become a trophy husband?
There is droll humor in Potiche and you take the situations with a grain of salt. Catherine Deneuve makes diplomacy look so easy, and Gerard Depardieu is an equal foil, but it is Fabrice Luchini as the husband who steals his scenes. Being spoiled by family for many years, he can't get used to fending for himself at home. Soap operas and chocolate help.
Set design is wonderfully done and gives one the ambience of the 1970’s when women didn't go out without full make-up, gloves, pearls, handbag and compact. Men were used to a full dinner in the evening and women in executive positions in the workplace were tolerated. Catherine’s automobile is a large one, while the hefty Depardieu drives around in a small car that manages to hit every bump on the road. Judith Godreche, as first the husband’s secretary and then Catherine’s, shows that loyalty can switch in about three seconds flat. When it comes to campaigning, a well-designed outfit and smile can trump rumpled suit and smirk, hands down. Such is the story of Potiche, where the trophy wife ends up bringing home the trophy. It’s all in good fun and an amusing view of marriage, politics and elections, which still hasn't changed much.
Copyright 2011 Marie Asner