A film by François Ozon
Review by Thomas W. Campbell
In March of 2011 I talked with Catherine Denueve following a screening of François Ozon’s comedy Potiche. The screening was for members of the National Board of Review. Denueve spoke about her pleasure of working with the young director, pairing up against the legendary Gérard Depardieu, and her continued love of acting. She was as graceful and beautiful as one would expect from an icon of modern cinema.
The review originally appeared here on the web site of the National Board of Review.
Potiche literally means a large impressive looking vase that is displayed to the owner’s benefit. Another definition, referred to in François Ozon’s latest film, is a “Trophy Wife”–a beautiful woman (or man as the case may be) who paid for and displayed to the husband’s (or wife’s) benefit. Catherine Denueve play Suzanne Pujol, the wife of a rich and unpleasant factory owner who has become, in her own words, “The Queen of kitchen appliances.” Ms. Denueve has filled world cinema with some of the most memorable roles of the last 45 year–as the troubled Severine in Louis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, as the psychologically tormented Carole in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, as Caroline Steiner, the wife of a Jewish theater owner in Nazi occupied France who falls in love with an actor played by Gérard Depardieu in François Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Potiche is the second film in which she has worked with Ozon, previously starring with an all-star ensemble cast in 2002’s Eight Women.
Potiche is an extremely enjoyable film that relies on carefully developed style, adept comic pacing, and the kind of character based humor that could fall flat if not done in the hands of a director capable of pulling it off. Potiche is a surprising departure for Ozon, who’s most memorable work has dramatic gravity that is anything but comic. Swimming Pool (2003) is a suspense film about a mystery writer (Charlotte Rampling) who leaves England to vacation at her editor’s French countryside cottage. A sudden visitor pulls her away from her work and ultimately draws her into a world of deception that might lead to murder. Hideaway (2009) tells the story of a young woman who loses her lover to a drug overdose then must struggle with the pregnancy she has been left alone to confront. Potiche feels like a new direction for Ozon, yet from start to finish it is accomplished, engaging, and a great deal of fun. The characters seem to have a strong resemblance to the good humored and playful ones in Truffaut’s lighter films (Day for Night, Jules and Jim) and the style of the film is just as colorful and intelligently created as in the recent work of Pedro Almodóvar.