Potiche (2011) Review

For fans of French comedy, Potiche will be appreciated for the respect it pays to the rules of the game. Newcomers to the genre will find a great ensemble cast, artfully chosen for the depth each has added to the characters of such a popular and far-reaching play. Remove your chapeau and enjoy French music, French countryside and French family matters.

Potiche stars Catherine Deneuve as a matronly housewife. When her husband, played by Fabrice Luchini takes ill amidst the turmoil of a laborers uprising, she is positioned to take the reins of her family’s umbrella company and negotiate with the union. A former flame and current Mayor, Gerard Depardieu, provides advice in an attempt to aid the smooth flow of the proceedings.

The quintessential French comedy has both subtle and overt humor, sexual tension, arrogance, humility and style. Potiche delivers on every level. Francois Ozon’s vision in reuniting with his 8 Women talent is clear. He took history and stellar talent and concocted something lightweight and non-obstructive while maintaining and echoing contemporary relevance. Although the film is set in 1977 in Saint-Gujole, it has a feel reminiscent of a frothy confection whipped-up on the dream of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day rom-com for American audiences.

Audiences are introduced to Suzanne pleasantly going about her day. Appropriate to the time, the trophy wife is jogging through the country-side in an Adidas jumper and kicks. She sports rollers in her hair and breathes in practiced intervals. She is the modern woman. In fact, each of the women represent a specific demographic and the accuracy of the times becomes a mirror to modern women as the story reveals just how little has changed in thirty years.

Mature audiences will enjoy recollecting the dawn of the 80’s. Viewers who know of Catherine Deneuve’s film persona will be all too prepared for the development of her Suzanne. While those who appreciate comedy will travel through character evolution to the type of polish and savvy that is borne of inner confidence and the success of having the respect of one’s peers and community.

Relatively light on the farce that can dominate some French comedy, audiences can focus on the strategy of supporting characters and won’t lose momentum in attempting to keep-up with subtitles. The soundtrack is loaded with music that plays into the temper of each scene, heightening the joke and precipitating mood. Additionally, the historical accuracy of the period, right down to product use and placement serves as another coup for American audiences who thrive on visual association.

Catherine Deneuve fails to encounter a role that she cannot give breath. As the nominal “trophy wife”, Madame Pujol, she is the very embodiment of a carefree and bored spouse. For years she has turned a blind-eye to her husband’s philandering, daring to be amiable to his known mistress and secretary. She is doting mother to her children, recognizing their talents and encouraging each, their own happiness.

Gerard Depardieu is both laughable and endearing as the militant and comely Mayor Babin who is the opposing force to Mr. Pujol – the cheap, insensitive and cheating CEO of Pujol Umbrellas. Both men provide a rich foil for the character exploration that becomes Potiche.

Karin Viard as the contemptuous secretary is quite novel. She finds the joke in every one of her scenes right down to her wardrobe. She is jaded and saucy as only her limited perspective of a cheating husband can make possible. But under the tutelage of a head strong matriarch she finds wisdom, insight and a true cause.

If a French comedy about women’s liberation and union negotiations isn’t enough to entrez the theater, give in to the sheer force of sincerity in even the wiliest characters as the entire cast delivers top-notch performances. Although it has gained the approval of both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, it aspires to gain the vote of American audiences by way of the elegant and fun treatment it gives emancipation.

All in all, this is a fun romp for cinema lovers who enjoy their early spring comedies with the tinge of winter prudence. And for longstanding fans of Ms. Deneuve, her rendition of the fine art dance form known as the Hustle is nothing short of inspired.

Potiche opens in LA and NY on March 25 followed by a national release.