Trophy Wife Off Her Mantelplace


24 March 2011| No Comments on Potiche     by Sean Chavel


At 68 years old, Catherine Deneuve can still do more than most women of any age can do anywhere. Her latest French film Potiche is a comedy set in a provincial 1977 town divided by bourgeoisie and working class peoples. Deneuve is Suzanne Pujol, an upper crust and pampered trophy wife whose seeming happiness masquerades as her pride. She remarks that she is “the queen of kitchen appliances.” Her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini), a lout, is an umbrella factory owner with a tide of angry workers on the verge of a union strike against him. They share two grown-up children who seem impartial, but in all subtlety, prefer their mom. So when Robert has a mishap that thwarts him inactive, the long domesticated Suzanne has to take over company control and negotiate with the union.

The French word potiche is a vase or decorative antique of appearance but of not any particular use which very much describes Suzanne before she goes through a transformation that can be found in other female empowerment movie comedies. There isn’t all that much good reason to set the film in 1977, not unless the angle of early era women’s lib comes into play and indeed the filmmakers play that card. But it’s rib-tickling to see the vogue elements of discotheque and clothes from that time, so indeed a sweet addition.

But what’s lovely is seeing Deneuve privileged with a script that’s peppered with lots of matriarchal wisdom and then accordingly applied to her stint as captain of industry. Some of you dear readers might be very unfamiliar with Deneuve but she was in my mind the most beautiful woman of the 20thcentury. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1963, pic left) made Deneuve a sight of pure beauty and “Belle de Jour” (1968, pic right) was a signature of sexuality both risqué and demure. Yet what made Deneuve a mystery to behold was that underneath her absolute physical perfection, she was an enigmatically captivating actress especially demonstrated in “Repulsion” (1965), “Mississippi Mermaid” (1969) and “Tristana” (1970), as well as making a few American film appearances such as “The Hunger” which she succumbs into a highly touted lesbian sex scene with Susan Sarandon.

              Deneuve in "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" 

We have often praised Deneuve in dramas in recent years, with twelve film credits in her last ten years. But devout followers will be certainly delighted that she has found her way into a wry and plush comedy. Thanks to Deneuve, “Potiche” has its dependable charms that outweigh the cynicism that creeps in here and there, but I wish it hadn’t amassed a four-act structure (the end of act three tries too hard to squash more “obstacles” upon her). The children are just fine root-worthy supporting characters as portrayed by Judith Godréche and Jérémie Renier. Yet Gérard Depardieu, as a mayor and former union leader, is the tough but lovable oaf who upholds the secrets to Suzanne’s torrid past.

As for Luchini, I have found him endearing in French films of recent years such as the hubba hubba sex comedy “The Girl From Monaco” (2008) and the beguiling “Intimate Strangers” (2004). But as Robert the chauvinist with a not-so-secret double life, he’s a little too despicable. I was strongly rooting for Suzanne to prevail and for Robert to fail.


This Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”) film is a minor piece but that could be a relief in the contrast of heavy-handed French downers from recent years.

103 Minutes. Unrated. French with English subtitles.


Film Cousins: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1963, France); “Working Girl” (1988); “Intimate Strangers” (2004, France); “The Girl from Monaco” (2008, France).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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