François Ozon directs social and political media comedy starring Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, returning to another role for the director after her turn in 8 Women (2002).
Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini) seems to have it all, a sizable house, an umbrella factory business and a respectable family life, complete with trophy wife – ‘I pay servants so my wife doesn’t have to work’. Simplicity reigns, profitably when it rains. The decadent Robert even enjoys an extra-marital affair with his secretary to keep his day fulfilled. Unfortunately when his factory workers take issue with his somewhat outdated working conditions the union hold a strike and eventually end up taking the boss hostage. Enter wife Suzanne (Catherine Deneuve), previously a mere social symbol, who not only rescues her bourgeois husband, but becomes the new boss to manage the business with her own brand of feminine leadership while he is indisposed. She can even relate to many of the union’s working demands. But there are still some issues regarding her husband’s situation outstanding, one that is politically made simpler and, at times, more confusing by the local mayor Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu). It’s a touch problematic in that he used to be a union leader and also Suzanne’s lover. Can love, sex, marriage, employment and industry come to terms with politics and personal situations in a manner that will leave all of those involved satisfied in any way?
Generational gaps, political misunderstandings and relationship confusion brought on by various extra-marital affairs are brought to the fore in the delightfully witty social comedy that is Potiche. Robert Pujol is a chauvinistic dinosaur of an employer, his attitude towards his employees is much the same as to his wife – ‘Your job is to share my opinion’. And so the plot sets out to ridicule these opinions – and Robert – by creating conflicts between him and the other players. Their problems are all connected with their ways of relating to each other through political, business or family dynamics. There are plenty of sidelines and shenanigans to enjoy: strange sexual situations, potential paternity problems, fractious friendships. Based upon the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy and co-written for the screen by Ozon, Potiche retains the characterisation and narrative construct of its theatrical origins but is distinctly cinematic, especially in its use of varied locations, so that the dialogue-heavy script (an important aspect of proceedings) does not reduce the film to a cheap TV version of the play but maintains its integrity.
Another delight from Ozon, Potiche is a comic farce with an all star cast that offers us scandalous revelation as well as political and media based commentaries, with a touch of naughtiness and minor shock value that will appeal to its audience in a desirable and enjoyable way. Good fun all round.