I have been a fan of Francois Ozon’s films since Ludivine Sagnier first hypnotised me in Swimming Pool, released in 2003 and also starring Charlotte Rampling. I fell in love with this film which tells the story of an uptight English writer played by Rampling whose trip to the South of France to work is turned upside down by the arrival of Julie played by Sagnier. As a result I sought out other Ozon films and watched 8 Femmes, a camp murder mystery musical which stars almost every well known French actress working in modern cinema, including Sagnier, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart and Virginie Ledoyen.
Potiche, released last year, pairs Deneuve and Ozon once more and is a pastiche comedy film set in the 1970s which tells the story of Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) who is a “potiche” or trophy wife married to Robert (played by Fabrice Luchini), a cheapskate mean tempered man who is the President of the factory that Suzanne’s father founded. When Robert becomes ill it is up to Suzanne to run the factory and prevent a possible union strike from shutting the place down altogether. The viewer cheers Suzanne on as she rises admirably to the challenge and turns her small dull life around almost unrecognisably.
Potiche was originally a stage play and Ozon has adapted it beautifully for screen. In particular the set design is perfect, evoking authentic 1970s suburbia with all its plastic naffness. Deneuve is perfectly cast as an aging bourgeois beauty with a worldly yet resigned air, a comic older version of her defining role in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour. Gerard Depardieu plays the local communist Mayor whose political passions are made all the more powerful by his gigantic physical presence. All in all, Potiche is a charming, funny film and, like Deneuve, has real substance underneath the glossy exterior.