The big-time rebellion of a former trophy wife
The films by the unpredictable French director Francois Ozon range from frothy camp ( 8 Women) to straightforward drama ( A Time To Leave, Under the Sand) to nightmarish horror ( Criminal Lovers). His latest film, Potiche, qualifies as screwball comedy edging toward farce, although its political subtext has satirical weight (much of it inevitably lost on U.S. audiences) and its humor is laced with droll absurdity. The opening credits alone seem to promise vintage John Waters: Wearing a red track suit and sporting curlers, Catherine Deneuve jogs through the forest and stops to stretch while she coos over an adorable deer, then a beautiful dove and is then taken aback by the sight of two rabbits humping.
But after Robert tests Suzannes patience one time too many, the docile housewife rebels in a big way and discovers she quite likes her newly empowered self. Ozon adapted Potiche from the 1980 stage play by the comedy writing team of Barillet and Gredy ( Cactus Flower), but he has refashioned the material primarily as a star vehicle for Deneuve and co-star Gerard Depardieu, who plays the towns communist mayor and Suzannes ex-flame. The two seem to enjoy working opposite each other as much as we enjoy watching them, and the film is at its best when theyre onscreen together (such as a scene in which they go out to a nightclub, and Ozon makes time to give them a dance number).
Ozon also one-ups the play by adding a third act that pushes Suzannes emancipation to new heights, allowing her to put all the manipulative men in her life in their place against an unlikely backdrop of labor strikes and social unrest. Potiche is filled with rat-a-tat dialogue and broadly humorous situations, but Ozon also employs subtle touches (watch how Suzannes wardrobe changes over the course of the film along with her or the silent transformation Laurent undergoes at the edges of the frame). The films main draw, though, is old-fashioned star power particularly that of the luminescent Deneuve, whose screen aura only burns brighter with every passing year.
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Jeremie Renier, Judith Godreche.
Writer-director: Francois Ozon. Based on the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy.
Producers: Eric and Nicolas Altmayer.
A Music Box Films release. Running time: 103 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Vulgar language, adult themes. Plays at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at Gusman.