11 June 2011
François Ozon’s latest über-French romp Potiche has the tongue pressed so hard against the cheek, it actually pierces through it. It is consistently hilarious, painfully sarcastic and, just like his previous 8 Women (2002), simply wonderful. Staying close to its origins as a stage play, the film never really tries to make the characters or the story believable or relatable - this looks like a 70s porn with a heart of gold.
Catherine Deneuve plays Mme Pujol, the titular trophy wife. She spends her day jogging in the woods surrounding the estate, talking to animals and writing poetry. Much like Agnès Varda’s wonderful Le Bonheur (1965), her life is portrayed as too happy and artifical. We never laugh at her, but we laugh with her all the way through. She is married to the sinister Robert Pujol (played wonderfully by the ever-reliable Fabrice Luchini), who now owns the umbrella factory that belonged to his wife’s late father. When workers go on strike, hie health deteriorates and Mme Pujol takes over the running of the company, accompanied by her right-winger daughter and left-winger son.
As expected, she turns the company around and becomes the darling of all the workers, including her husband’s mistress and secretary, Nadège (Karin Viard). Meanwhile, an old flame also enters the frame in the shape of a rather rotund communist mayor, Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu).
Where Potiche really works is when the audience takes everything in face value and just go along with it - any in-depth interpretation of the characters or the story will render the film less of a great comedy and more of a curious experiment. Much like the aforementioned 8 Women, Ozon’s film is full of little moments of brilliance. Mme Pujol’s journey from the trophy wife, to the CEO of a successful factory, all the way to an elected politican is effortlessly told (despite its superficial qualities) and it is by far the best comedy of the year.