FNE at Venice IFF 2010: Potiche


    VENICE: Director Francois Ozon reviews his successful collaboration with actress Catherine Deneuve who turns in a sparkling performance in this adaptation of Barillet and Gredy's French boulevard comedy. Set in 1977 in northern France, Deneuve plays Suzanne the "trophy wife" of wealthy and conservative industrialist Robert who runs an umbrella factory.

    Suzanne is seemingly the ultimate submissive housewife but when the factory workers go on strike and take Robert hostage Suzanne takes shows herself to be a woman of action not just a "potiche" or a trophy wife as the French idiom is roughly translated. First she also renews her acquaintance with the Communist union leader Baban played Gerard Depardieu to get her husband freed. Then while he is recovering she takes over running the factory and proves to be a highly competent manager. All goes well until the husband returns.

    Ozon keeps the film alive with irony and life and this might just be his biggest box office hit since 8 Women. The director says that ever since working with Deneuve on that ensemble film he had wanted to work again with her and he never considered anyone else for the leading role.

    Deneuve's performance is the central pivot of the film and it is brilliant. Her transformation from submissive housewife to assertive top manager is perfectly timed and keeps the audience not only laughing but cheering for her victory. As an actress she is ageless and this character could have been a comic book cutout but Deneuve makes her someone audiences can love.

    Deneuve and Depardieu have done seven films together and the chemistry is screen between them is fun to watch. They never miss a beat and every punchline is delivered with just the right nuance. This is like watching Nureyev and Fonteyn every more perfectly timed and the combination of the two putting out much more energy than just one plus one. Fabrice Luchini as the tyrannical husband also turns in a memorable performance. Setting the film in the 1970's gives it just the right background for its characters to play out this farce with style and flair. Comedy at this best Potiche proves that the box office still has its pleasures.

    Potiche directed by François Ozon

    Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche, Jérémie Régnier