Set in the 1970s and showcasing the crème-de-le-crème of French film talent, Potiche (2010) is a lovingly nostalgic journey into the flamboyant films of Jacques Demy and Jean Renoir. Directed by renowned filmmaker François Ozon and starring legendary French actors Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, Potiche is a comedy about the emancipation and political awakening of a trophy wife and has all the ingredients required to create a stylish portrait of continental whimsy.
Constantly living in the shadow of the men in her life, Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve), is the heiress of an umbrella factory, now run by her archaic and controlling husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini). However, when a workers strike results in Robert being taken hostage and later signed off from work due to a stress induced seizure, Suzanne is called upon by her childhood fling Mayor Maurice Babin (Depardieu) to take control of the business. She successfully quells the rising dissent within the factory and begins to emerge from her role as a ‘kept women’ to become a successful business director. Her rise to prominence doesn’t sit well with her returning husband and so starts a series of fraught and damaging encounters which threatens to tear apart the fragile bonds which bind their family.
From the casting of such stalwarts of the French film industry (Deneuve and Depardieu), the vibrant colours which warm the screen, to the story being set against the backdrop of an umbrella factory (a loving nod to Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg ), Potiche is in many way a hugely enjoyable ode to the delightfully playful cinema of France during the 1950s and 60s. Ozon has previously successfully captured the wistful joys of this period of his national cinema with 8 Women (2002) and Potiche similarly manages to replicate this defining era whilst also incorporating Ozon’s own unique style.
Deneuve’s performance is spectacular. She’s the very definition of Gallic glamour and only adds to the strikingly beautiful cinematography whilst simultaneously stealing the spotlight with her own endearing radiance. Her cast members do an admirable job keeping up, yet considering the minute amount of screen time they’re given its unsurprising they all seem like mere bit parts to Deneuve recently empowered matriarch figure.
Sadly, Potiche’s script fails on numerous occasions, especially when Ozon attempts to insert his subtle satire regarding the repression of women rights in the 70s and the left-wing political movement which swept through the country during this time. The overpowering whimsy at the heart of this kitsch domestic comedy is so strong that anything other than light hearted fun finds it difficult to penetrate the film’s farcical narrative – resulting in a warm but ultimately shallow film which, whilst a beautiful visual montage of inviting pastel tones, leaves little lasting impression.