In provincial Sainte-Gudule, Northern France, Suzanne (Catherine Deneuve) is the housebound wife of businessman Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), who oversees the umbrella factory inherited from Suzanne's father with an iron fist and is equally tyrannical with his family. It's 1977 and women are not expected - nor wanted - to step out of their roles as shadows of their husband. When the workers go on strike over pay and conditions and take Robert hostage, Suzanne has to step in to solve the crisis, with help from the once active Communist and now Mayor, Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu) with whom she had a brief fling in their youth. She is soon managing the factory. To everyone's surprise, she proves herself more than competent. But when Robert returns from a forced rest on a cruise in top form, things get complicated ... he wants his job back, but Suzanne has grown to love being in charge.
Review by Louise Keller:
An absolute delight, Potiche will charm audiences everywhere with its humour, witty script and knockout performance by Catherine Deneuve, who has never been lovelier on screen. If you haven't already fallen in love with Deneuve during her illustrious career, you will here, as the 'trophy wife', who pulls out surprise after surprise from her serene, bourgeois exterior. This social satire looks at the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the working class, dealing with the role of women in society, politics and the workplace. A delightful and uplifting crowd pleaser and one of François Ozon's best, it's a trophy of a film.
Even jogging in her red tracksuit with curlers in her hair, Deneuve's Suzanne Pujol looks lovely. When she stops in the tranquil setting to take a breath, she spies a faun, blows a kiss to a bird in flight, watches rabbits mating and a squirrel scampering up a tree. These are the things she writes about in her poetry, which with gardening and needlepoint keep her occupied in her role as perfect wife, mother and grandmother. Her charm bracelet may symbolise her charmed life, but as the story unfolds, we realise there is much more than meets the eye to this seemingly passive woman, who delights in ignoring social boundaries and effortlessly solves everyone's problems - with charm and finesse.
Based on Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy's play, the year is 1977 and Suzanne lives in a man's world, where her irritable, adulterous husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini), runs her father's umbrella factory - a nice touch, remembering Deneuve's 1964 hit The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. We rub our hands in glee as Suzanne takes the reigns of the company by necessity. With elegance and smarts, she attacks all the problems: the irate factory workers, her husband's mistress Nadège (Karin Viard), the antagonistic mayor with communist tendencies Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), her daughter Joëlle (Judith Godrèche) who has marriage problems and her son Laurent (Jérémie Renier) who has a passion for the arts.
There are many lovely moments, but none more touching than at Badaboum, the notorious nightclub decorated by animal print and whores, where Suzanne and Maurice drink champagne and dance together. Depardieu has not lost his charisma and there is such pathos in the relationship between the two as the magic of this moment plays out. Also worthy of note is the cameo with Sergi Lopez as the tattooed truck driver - I couldn't help chuckling when Suzanne unceremoniously hitches up her skirt and gets into the truck. Deneuve also reminds us she can sing.
The best thing about Potiche is that it is not glib in any way but identifies real truths about life and relationships. It's about changing roles, the invisible bonds forged over years, pedestals that can be discarded, secrets revealed, the value of nurturing - and the art of diplomacy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
From jogging housewife to running for parliament, Suzanne Pujot (Catherine Deneuve) makes light of a journey that symbolises how far women were able to come in the 70s and 80s. But it's not all downhill on the way up, and there are personal hurdles to overcome and private pain to ease.
François Ozon loves to tell stories about women, and he's usually a bit better at it than here, although there is much to like in this multifaceted film. Deneuve, for one. She invests in Suzanne a depth of character with the minutest detail. Her forbearance in the face of a (rather one dimensional) chauvinist husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) and her ability to make light of her housewife status at the beginning of the film make all the difference to the tone of the film. She's no victim; she's a serene and self assured woman who rises above the pettiness of her male partner.
Ozon also does well with the character of Nadège (Karin Viard), Robert's secretary and mistress. Viard is a wonderfully adaptive actress who can morph into any character she's given. There is one scene where the writing lets her down, but her performance remains intact.
Gerard Depardieu plays the old commie Mayor who was once Suzanne's lover for a brief summer afternoon. Now he's recruited as her ally in turning things around at the umbrella factory she inherited from her father - and which her husband runs like a fiefdom; badly.
But the feminist themes are treated with sensitivity and balance - and in the context of the period. Suzanne's children, Joelle and Laurent, are strong supports as played by Judith Godriche and Jeremie Renier, although once again some ropey writing gets Joelle into a situation (viz her shareholding in the company) that is not credible.
A couple of other flaws mar the film's consistency, but there is much to like in the story, the relationships and the performances.
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CAST: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche, Jérémie Renier, Sergi López
PRODUCER: Eric Altmeyer, Nicolas Altmeyer
DIRECTOR: François Ozon
SCRIPT: François Ozon (play by Pierre Barillet, Jean-Pierre Grédy)
EDITOR: Laure Gardette
MUSIC: Philippe Rombi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Katia Wyszkop
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 21, 2011; special advance screenings April 15, 16, 17, 2011