Movie Review: “Potiche”

Pairing up Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu pays dividends in the daft feather-light French farce “Potiche,” a period piece designed to remind us of just how far and how fast women have come in the Western world.

Deneuve, a well preserved 67, is Suzanne, “trophy wife” to Robert (Fabrice Luchini of “Moliere,” Intimate Strangers” and “The Girl from Monaco”), the fellow who married her, married money and took over the family umbrella factory.

Robert is virulently anti-union, given to rants and fistfights at the merest hint of a strike. And this being 1977, unions in France aren’t taking that lying down. When a strike is called, Robert is taken hostage. And the best efforts of the Marxist mayor (Gerard Depardieu) only buy him a reprieve. Suzanne must take over her daddy’s old factory while Robert, her husband, recovers from the trauma of his hours as a hostage.

And as she does, the mayor talks of reviving their long-ago dalliance.

Suzanne’s children take sides in the family struggle for control over the umbrella-works, and Robert’s infidelities (He is French, after all) come home to roost before all is said and done.

Best of all, we see the rising expectations and ambitions of Suzanne’s son and especially her daughter, inspired by her mother’s example. Mom’s not just a “potiche” any more. Why should Noelle (Judith Godreche) be?

The performances are pitched just right, with Deneuve and Depardieu clicking just as one would hope, and Luchini making a perfect sexist fat-cat lout.

Director Francois Ozon isn’t the deftest hand at doling out little plot surprises in “Potiche,” whose title translates as “vase,” as in thing for display.  He did “Eight Women,” a musical, so this has musical elements as it wears out its welcome after the 90 minute mark. The film finishes rather meekly, which undercuts some of the fun in the satire.

But it’s funny to hear Depardieu lament “I betrayed my class “and Deneuve top that with “I betrayed my husband” as Suzanne works out disagreements and leads French women out of the kitchen and into the boardroom and the halls of government.

 

MPAA rating: R for some sexuality.

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini

Credits: Directed by Francis Ozon, scripted by Ozon and based on a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy.

A Music Box Films release. Running time: 1:43.

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