Movie Review: Potiche

By Stephen Rebello

Catherine Deneuve plays a trophy wife who takes over the family business with much success in this French-Belgium comedy.

Director: François Ozon Rating: R Studio: Mandarin Cinema

International film icon Catherine Deneuve is really something to see as the centerpiece of the new French comedy Potiche. Set in the late 1970s, the droll, upbeat and gently satirical movie casts the elegant Deneuve as the wealthy, apparently submissive, poetry-writing wife to the perpetually cranky owner (Fabrice Luchini) of an umbrella factory whose workers are in anti-management turmoil. When a well-justified labor strike gets her husband’s heart condition acting up, the heroine takes the reins of the business, bringing in her pretty, conservative daughter (Judith Godrèche) and her artsy, freewheeling son (Jérémie Renier) and upsetting the balance of family power.

With a full barrage of secret mistresses, sexual intrigue and light political satire, the plot’s complications ensue, reverses itself and then becomes even more twisty. It’s when Denueve’s character tries to win the hearts and minds of the factory workers and enlists the aid of the mayor (Gérard Depardieu) that the real fun emerges.

Loosely based on a 1980 French farce, the breezy, leisurely paced movie, directed by François Ozon (8 Women; Swimming Pool), is big on 1970s trappings—split screens, bright colors and deliberately broad performances. Ozon even paces the movie so that actors pause for comedy punch lines exactly the way they might do on stage. If you can get into the gently anarchic, good spiritedness of the thing, you’ll probably have a good time. No matter what, though, Deneueve as the “potiche” of the title—that is, a pretty, useless ornament or trophy wife—is fascinating and commanding as she slowly reveals the steel spine beneath her character’s exterior gloss.

The happy accident of so much of the action being set in and around the umbrella factory (which comes directly from the play) also makes for a warm nod to one of a very young Deneuve’s biggest international successes, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The nostalgic, witty scenes with Depardieu, especially one set in a red-lit disco, are especially warm and funny. You may O.D. on all the Gallic charm, but what a way to go.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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