Francois Ozon latest movie Potiche (2010) has been based on a 1980 stage comedy of the same name. Known as a Boulevard Play, it was this kind of theatre that provided entertainment for the Parisian middle classes, generally dealing with topical satire and carrying out light-hearted attacks on sexual morality, the British equivalent would be the Whitehall farces of Brian Rix. This is the second time Ozon has used this type of play as a basis for a film, the first being 8 femmes and like 2002 film he has populated it with icons of the French cinema, Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. This new film also contains political themes namely labour unrest and feminist struggles that give this comedy/melodrama a certain amount of depth that was missing from 8 femmes.
It’s France the year’s 1977. Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is the submissive, housebound wife of wealthy Robert Pujol, tyrannical managing director of her late fathers successful umbrella factory, a business he rules in a dictatorial manner also equally domineering with both his grown up children. The factory workers go on strike and take Robert hostage, on his his release has a heart attack, Suzanne is persuaded by local mayor and communist MP Maurice Babin (Depardieu), a man she once had a fling with, to manage the factory in Roberts absence. To everyone’s surprise, she proves herself a competent replacement and revitalizes the business as well as giving both her children positions of importance. But when Robert returns from a recuperative cruise in top form he takes exception to what he finds.
|Deneuve and Depardieu.|
This garish camp farce succeeds in being entertaining, lighthearted and diverting and Ozon has no trouble obtaining great performances from its ensemble cast. The late 1970’s settings are spot on and I think the director’s digs at modern French politics are very well executed, Deneuve character is alleged to be based on Segolene Royal who stood against Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential elections. But it does get quite embarrassing sometimes, for example the dance scene in the Le Badaboum and Suzanne bursting into song at the end of the film (can’t imagine the grocers daughter breaking into song on hearing her election results!) Then there’s the script, which at times can make you squirm. Not to everyone’s taste! I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this one.