2010, R, 103 min. Directed by François Ozon. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Judith Godrèche, Jérémie Renier, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 22, 2011
A lightweight confection, this French import slides down easily even though it never truly satisfies. Adapted by the filmmaker from a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Potiche never acquires any psychological depth or narrative flourish. The comedy is somewhat diagrammatic and forced, though the film’s delightful performances and brilliant color palette see it through any rough patches. The 1977 setting also amplifies the film’s superficial mood as it recalls (especially during the opening-credits sequence with its jaunty music and split screens) the tenor of any one of a number of late-Seventies French sex comedies. Deneuve has the leading role as Suzanne Pujol, the trophy wife of the title (which is how the word “potiche” is translated). She is married to a rich, sexist adulterer (Luchini), who owns the umbrella factory that was founded by Suzanne’s father and was part of the dowry she brought to the marriage. (That the umbrella factory echoes Deneuve’s early film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the film’s unspoken charms.) Workers’ strikes and the women’s movement permeate the late-Seventies atmosphere, and when the disgruntled umbrella-makers take their boss hostage, it’s not long before the mildly resentful trophy wife steps in to take his place. Further complications arise with the entrance of Maurice Babin (Depardieu), a former union leader and lover of Suzanne’s, who is mortified by his attraction to this paragon of the bourgeoisie. Suzanne’s two grown children (Godrèche and Renier) also demand her time and attention, yet the unflappable Mrs. Pujol takes it all in stride. Deneuve and Depardieu are refreshing in the leading roles, almost because of their age rather than in spite of it. Yet, the characters still never come across as flesh-and-blood human beings they remain concepts that never emerge into recognizable people. Except for the closing song, which further relegates the story into the realm of fantasy, the film is, nevertheless, a tasty morsel.