Potiche (Music Box Films, R)

What else would you expect from a film that in the surreally pastel opening scene shows two rabbits getting busy as Suzanne jogs past?



Francois Ozon’s Potiche is the frothiest of summer confections, a fast-paced boulevard comedy that pokes fun at the foibles of the upper middle class while at the same time celebrating the good life they enjoy. Set in 1977, it incorporates the contemporary issue of women’s liberation but always with a light touch and in an audience-friendly manner. This is a kind of comedy the French do particularly well, and which never seems to survive in American remakes (last year’s excruciating Dinner for Schmucks, a remake of Francis Veber’s Le Dîner de Cons, is a case in point).

Of course it helps when you have Catherine Deneuve playing Suzanne, the "ornamental housewife" of the title (the translation "trophy wife" really doesn’t fit as that designation is generally reserved, in the U.S. at least, for women much younger and more superficially showy than the elegant Ms. Deneuve). Her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) manages the umbrella factory (the first of many references to Deneuve’s previous films) Suzanne inherited from her father with an iron hand, so much so that the workers go on strike and take him hostage. She calls in a favor with the town’s socialist mayor (Gérard Depardieu) to get Robert released, then finds herself serving temporarily as his replacement while he recovers from the ordeal.

Of course she’s better at Robert’s job than he ever was and not only brings about peace with the workers but also gets her son Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and daughter Jöelle (Judith Godrèche) involved in the business. Suzanne’s example also gives Robert’s long-suffering secretary Nàdege (Karin Viard) the courage to tell him to get lost (or more specifically to find someplace else to stick it) and everyone gets sexually liberated in mind as well as body. What else would you expect from a film that in the surreally pastel opening scene shows two rabbits getting busy as Suzanne jogs past?

All the characters in Potiche are broadly drawn, as you would expect with this kind of comedy, and Ozon takes a palpable delight in recreating some of the more egregious fashion sins of the 1970s, from Jöelle’s Farrah Fawcett ‘do to Laurent’s bellbottoms and shaggy haircut. From the start Potiche has a deliberately cultivated sense of theatricality, as if to emphasize that what you are seeing is a pleasant fiction and not an attempt to duplicate reality.

The music by Philippe Rombi adds to the sense of period make-believe, as does the costume design by Pascaline Chavanne and production design by Katia Wyszkop. Keeping the story firmly in the late 1970s was the right choice, because the casual misogyny and sexism Suzanne must overcome is much easier to take when attributed to an era comfortably in the past. Ozon’s screenplay updates the script of Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy’s 1980 play, most noticeably to give it a different ending that increases the liberation of Suzanne, but not so much as to lose the 1970s flavor.

Potiche provides a very enjoyable night at the theatre and gives you the opportunity once again to marvel at Deneuve, whose charms only seem to increase with the years. It’s hard to imagine anyone else being half as good in the role and the opportunity to see her working again with Depardieu (who, truth be told, has not aged nearly as gracefully) is an added treat. | Sarah Boslaugh



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