Set in 1977 in a provincial French town, POTICHE is a free adaptation of the 1970s eponymous hit comic play. Catherine Deneuve is Suzanne Pujol, a submissive, housebound 'trophy housewife' (or "potiche,") who steps in to manage the umbrella factory run by her wealthy and tyrannical husband (Fabrice Luchini) after the workers go on strike and take him hostage. To everyone's surprise, Suzanne proves herself a competent and assertive woman of action. But when her husband returns from a restful cruise in top form, things get complicated. Gerard Depardieu plays a former union leader and Suzanne's ex-beau who still holds a flame for her. Acclaimed writer-director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool
, Under the Sand
, Time to Leave
) who had previously directed Ms. Deneuve in the international hit 8 Women
, twists the original play on its head to create his own satirical and hilarious take on the war between the sexes and classes. - Music Box Films
Soundtrack available on Amazon
In a small French town live the Pujol family. They can be seen as the rulers of this fiefdom as they own and operate the umbrella factory that employs a majority of the locals. This family has been around for generations and the legacy of great Pujol, Suzanne's (Catherine Deneuve) father, hangs heavy over everyone. Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), Suzanne's husband, runs the factory with an iron fist, not willing to compromise or adapt to the changing laborer demands from the Unions. It is this strife that changes everything for the Pujol family, as Robert becomes ill from the stress of the strike negotiations and Suzanne steps in while he recuperates. Everyone expects Suzanne to play nice at the factory; to sit back and do as she is told just as she does at home. A woman turned from trophy housewife into trophy boss for the time being. When Suzanne takes over at the factory she takes the company into modern times and looks towards the future. She is successful in work, and possibly in love when an old flame, Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), the Union negotiator is thrust back into her life. Their romantic entanglements make for some of the best comedic scenes in the entire film. Their relationship also produces nasty issues dealing with class and image; all handled with humor in a whip-smart manner by them both.
Potiche is not a simple film. Suzanne is more than one expects, and what transpires is a comedic opera full of political commentary, gender role reversals, and impropriety. Watching the film is a delightful experience with its near kitschy atmosphere bound by the strict bourgeois class expectations. It is full of life at every turn, with a variety of humor to be drawn from the direct situations at hand as well as the indirect commentary.
Catherine Deneuve is no stranger to awards and accolades for her performances on film. She is a French Movie Star who has managed to captivate the entire world with her work, and continues to do so today in Potiche. As a potiche, translated from french "trophy housewife", Deneuve illuminates the screen as she transcends from 50s-era housewife to poster child for the new generation of feminist in the late 1970s.
We first meet Deneuve's character, Suzanne Pujol, during her morning jog. Dressed in a perfectly fitted red tracksuit she is delicate as she, with the greatest amount of femininity, jogs through the surrounding beautiful landscape of her French home. Her make-up is flawless, her hair perfectly coiffed, and her demeanor suited to her class--she projects a regal sense of entitlement but also a friendly and playful demeanor as she retrieves her small notepad from her pocket to quickly write a short poem. Everything we need to know about Suzanne swiftly appears before us in this brief opening sequence, and it sets the tone for her transformation as the film continues.
The film is a comedy, centered around Suzanne's family, the family business, and her own past that gives way to revelations that are hilariously shocking and appalling for one of her stature. Denueve manages to hit every beat with ease. She is the finest potiche, managing the household as any woman should while delivering lines with a succinct bite that prove she is more behind the facade of perfect housewife she projects. Her husband is a patronizing adulterer whom she greats with a smile. When she is put in charge of the factory she rises to the occasion. She manages to stop the Union strike by using her impeccable manners and kindness, but also with a clear head for business matters. She is her father's daughter, and seeks to prove she can do the job just as well, if not better, than he or her husband ever did. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing Suzanne other than Catherine Deneuve. She embodies the character with such life, buoyancy, and determination that you are transfixed by her charms, amused by her diversions, and gratified with her achievements. She makes feminism pretty, and ageless, for as a grandmother breaking free of the constraints of poticheness she is a fantastic role model--with perfect hair and impeccably tailored clothes.
Every great performer has to have others with whom to work with, and Deneuve has an array of great actors right along her side. Gerard Depardieu (Maurice) is the love-sick Union leader who wants nothing more than to whisk Suzanne away to their spot in the woods and rekindle their long forbidden love affair. The manner in which Maurice looks at Suzanne, speaks to Suzanne, and reacts to her is intimidating. There is such great emotion buried deep beneath them both that is held hostage by their residual class beliefs they may burst from the tension. The tension is eased with sarcasm and inexplicit flirtations that have no one fooled as their feelings for one another. As the philandering husband who is threatened by his once docile wife Fabrice Luchini (Robert) does a fantastic job at being the man everyone hates. If one can find a likable attribute to his character it would involve a great amount of time and energy. He makes for a great adversary, a fantastic villain, and an all around perfect shoddy husband. The cast is rounded out with the Pujol children as well as Robert/Suzanne's assistant at the factory. While all three of these characters are important they easily take to the shadows behind the performances, and characters, of Deneuve, Depardieu, and Luchini. Potiche may fall prey to being too long of a film with too many beats to keep the attention from waning but it does not fail in any manner with the performances of all of the actors involved; they create characters worth an extra twenty or so minutes of overreaching.
March 25, 2011