Review: POTICHE - An Accessible, Fun Change From The Norm

rating: 3.5

France has a rich history of cinematic farce, and of cinematic melodrama, but never have the two been so brazenly fused as in François Ozon's Potiche. Based on a play of the same name by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, the story charts the unexpected rise of trophy wife ('potiche' in French) Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve) against the backdrop of 1970s political and social unrest in a small French village. Her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) is the man in charge of the local umbrella factory, and the main employer in the village. He acquired his position by marrying Suzanne, whose father founded the business, and has become an authoritarian boss. He's none too please with the unrest, and blames mayor and former union man Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu). Underneath these big political tensions lie gender assumptions, sexual flings and indiscretions, and familial problems as young Pujols Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and Joelle (Judith Godrèche) pursue their own life choices. Ozon is more famous for slow, simmering dramas shot in a quiet, considered way, and it seems 'Potiche' is his chance to break free and play a little more. He strives to maintain a '70s feel and, with some playful editing, bold, bright costume and set design and plenty of help from his talented cast, he hits the spot. It's a great setting for the farcical elements, as Robert becomes increasingly frustrated with the politicking and power-grabbing of those around him, and as assumptions are played upon. The early tone goes full throttle for irony, but as the melodrama kicks in and the factory becomes a mini war zone, the awkward marriage of genres become more apparent. Deneuve does a wonderful job as Suzanne, but as she becomes an important woman, shedding the shackles of domestic life, there is a sense that we are watching something making more of a grandstanding political point than a playful jab at a problem that remains present today. Nonetheless, Deneuve and Depardieu pull everything together wonderfully as the sexual subplots reach their peak and the true independence of Suzanne becomes apparent. I won't ruin the climax of the film, but suffice to say that the hilariously silly tone of the opening scenes is gleefully returned without shedding any of the core messages of this light, frothy political melodrama. It's accessible, fun, and a nice change from the norm. Potiche is in cinema's now.
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