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Potiche

un film de Francois Ozon

The first thing one thinks of - or at least the first thing this critic thought of - while watching Francois Ozon's new pop candy confectionary (and I mean that in a mostly complimentary manner) Potiche, is how much better it would have been if it were a musical. It isn't that Potiche (French for trophy wife) is a bad film - it is quite pleasant throughout - but it would surely be better as a musical (some people would claim that statement could hold true for every movie, but that is another story for another day). But seriously, Catherine Deneuve's climactic musical number notwithstanding (there had to be one, right?), what Ozon needs in Potiche is more songs. It already feels like a musical anyway - complete with openings that just cry out for a song to fill them - so why not just go all out and make it a real live musical. After all, Ozon's 8 Women, which had its fill of fun, giddy musical numbers by some of French Cinema's most alluring actresses (including the aforementioned Mlle Deneauve), is probably the director's most purely enjoyable, if not his fluffiest film.

Actually Potiche may be the auteur's fluffiest film now, but as far as purely, mindless entertainment goes (and so many people claim that is all they want from movies these days) it is, how should I say...the cat's pajamas. Set in 1977, Potiche is a story of class warfare, made to look like a light-hearted Bunuel. There is trouble brewing at the Pujol umbrella factory and the tyrannical boss Robert Pujol, played with a stupefied but arrogant swagger by Fabrice Luchini is not making matters any better by refusing to negotiate with the strikers. After being taken hostage by the striking workers and suffering a heart attack, Gerard Depardieu's socialist parlimentarian (looking so overweight as to make one think they are watching the film in the wrong aspect ratio) steps in and negotiates a ceasefire of sorts. The only stipulation is that Deneuave's trophy wife Suzanne (it is actually her late father's company, now run by the boorish son-in-law) take over as company president. Of course she runs the factory with an inevitable efficiency and class - things her philandering hubby never had.

Of course there are many more complications along the way - Depardieu's labor party delegate and Deneuve's bourgeois trophy wife are former lovers (and one may still be quite in love with the other), Suzanne's closeted son may end up marrying his half-sister, Robert's secretary/mistress begins to think for herself to the great dismay of M. Pujol - and these incidences (half sitcom, half soap opera) are what make the film fly as freely as it does. Ozon has been an interesting auteur over the years, making both fluffy comedies (the aforementioned 8 Women) and deep disturbing sexual dramas (Swimming Pool, Under the Sand), as well as taking stabs at Fassbinderian homage (Water Drops on Burning Rocks) and whatever the Hell one would call his creepy-comic Sit-Com. I do believe though, that no matter how enjoyable it is (and it is quite), Potiche calls for the musical touch (and it does have more than obvious spiritual references to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and would be a much better film for it. [05/21/11]

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