Celebrated French writer / director François Ozon has crafted an interesting career over his 22 years in the business, graduating from shorts (with no less than 18 to his name) to documentaries (Jospin s’éclaire) to full-length features as is the custom. Receiving considerable acclaim for his debut comedy Sitcom (including a nomination for best film at the Namur International Festival of French-Speaking Film), he also impressed in offerings as diverse as thriller Criminal Lovers and drama Water Drops On Burning Rocks, with his early efforts demonstrating significant promise. In 2000, the critically lauded Under The Sand brought the fledgling filmmaker to greater prominence outside of his native France, with his status as an international auteur to watch cemented by the equally highly regarded 8 Women and Swimming Pool. With 5×2, Time To Leave, Angel, Ricky and The Refuge following, the director retained his commitment to variety as well as his strong satirical undercurrent, with his latest – and eleventh – feature Potichecontinuing the same trend.
Despite being relegated to the status of an object (or the potiche – which translates as vase – of the title) over the multiple decades of her lacklustre marriage, trophy wife Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve, Dancer In The Dark) is satisfied with her lot in life. Or, at least she thinks she is, until her mean-spirited husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini, My Father’s Guest) takes ill after an ugly altercation with the unionised workers at the family’s umbrella factory, leaving Suzanne to take the reins of the business that originated from her father’s hard work and kindly mannerisms. Solving the crisis with her feminine charms and the assistance of her old friend, town mayor and Robert’s nemesis Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu, Public Enemy #1), and bringing her resentful daughter Joëlle (Judith Godrèche, The Spanish Apartment) and artistic son Laurent (Jérémie Renier, Summer Hours) in to help as well, Suzanne relishes her new found managerial role. Alas, when Robert regains his health, he sets out to retain his former glory at any cost, with his efforts increased when his secretary and mistress Nadège (Karin Viard, Change Of Plans) takes Suzanne’s side over that of her lover.
Polished yet playful and smart yet sardonic, Potiche presents the best of Ozon’s oeuvre in one slick and sophisticated package. With the comedic scenario straddling the line between frivolous farce and measured melodrama, the film sparkles from the start until close to the finish with witty dialogue and a warm spirit, as well as the director’s demonstrated nous for societal insights and his nuanced depiction of women of all ages. Aiding the cause is the exemplary cast, with the always elegant Deneuve a treasure whilst poking fun at her own career, and her partnership with the under-rated Depardieu the definition of dynamic. Luchini also acquits himself well in a role that could have devolved into an unpleasant caricature, and Viard adds yet another character to her already brimming repertoire. Although the feature is unable to sustain its zest in the final act, the remainder of the retro-style film is enjoyable regardless. With a musical number and a dance routine adding yet more levity, the energetic offering is thoroughly engaging, as well as amusing and surprising.
Both entertaining and insightful, the funny, frothy and altogether fun Potiche is an absolute delight. Marked by winning turns from and obvious charisma between stars Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu, the latest from satirical master François Ozon is a delectable romp, let down only by an awkward ending.
Potiche is screening as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2011, and receives a general release on April 21, 2011 in Australia by Transmission Films.