Monday, April 11, 2011

POTICHE (TROPHY WIFE) (2011)

Written & Directed by Francois Ozon


When & Where: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA   March 29, 2011  4:50 PM



It's always an absolute pleasure whenever Catherine Deneuve makes an appearance on the silver screen. I also look forward in seeing the latest feature from writer/director Francois Ozon. So it is a major treat when these two French talents team up to make a film together.

"Potiche" is actually the second time they have worked together, following the delightful 2002 musical, "8 Femmes", and while there are moments of charming Gallic amusement, unfortunately it is far from a satisfying collaboration.

In French, a "potiche" translates to a decorative vase but the word is also used to describe a trophy wife which is a fairly accurate description of Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve), a 1970's  beautiful but simple housewife who has spent her life raising their two children, keeping the house in order, maintaining her looks for her husband and not doing much more than that. Now, she is older without much to do because the children have grown-up with lives of their own and she and her husband, Robert (Fabrice Luchini) have grown so far apart that they now have separate bedrooms.

Robert is far from lonely, however, as he is having an affair with his secretary, Nadege (Karin Viard) in the umbrella company that he runs that was founded by Suzanne's father. He has been making her promises and treating her poorly and she is fed up. Robert is a relentless tyrant of a manager and the employees have had enough. The workers lock themselves in the factory and go on strike, taking Robert as a hostage until their demands are met.

Suzanne doesn't know what to do so she calls Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), a former union leader for advice, who also happens to be an ex-lover from years ago. She goes to the factory to reason with the workers, some she has known since she was a young girl, and negotiates changes to their liking.

The whole ordeal completely stresses Robert out and he is confined to bed rest for a few months, so Suzanne decides to run the company until her husband is better. She soon discovers that she has a skill for running a business, the workers adore her and she enjoys being productive.

Soon, Robert is back to health and wants to return to his position but Suzanne is not going to give up her new job, so she suggests he go home and take care of the house. Even his secretary, Nadege is through with him and is happy to be working with Suzanne. However, Robert is not about to walk away quietly, so he uses an underhanded  power play to force her out but Suzanne is far from defeated as she moves on to a new and exciting endeavour.

The last few films that Mr. Ozon has done have been heavy dramas, so it's wonderful he has returned to the delightfully offbeat comedies that first brought him acclaim. However, with "Potiche" he has seemed to have held back. With this film, based on a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, he didn't allow himself to go all the way to the edge with the comedy and this is exactly what "Potiche" desperately needed. While "Potiche" amusingly features the loud colors and garish fashions of the time as well as a little singing and disco dancing that Ozon loves but despite all that, it still feels too conventional with muted, uninspired laughs and low energy.

Ms Deneuve, who has made incredibly over one hundred films, delivers another fine performance and she seems to be having fun in this comic role, while Mr. Depardieu, who seems to keep growing larger with each new film appearance, does what he does best in his supporting part. This couple have made numerous films together over the years but I think it's more about them being two of France's biggest movie-stars than having any actual screen chemistry together.

"Potiche" is a mildly pleasant, candy-colored diversion but after you finish watching it, you might have some difficulty remembering it.