Film Review: “Potiche”

Somewhere between seeing the preview for “Potiche” advertised prior to “Blue Valentine” at the Angelika and the article I read about Catherine Deneuve on NYMag.com this week, I decided that “Potiche” was on my must-see list. Not sure why. Just had a hunch.

Following the hunch, I made the trip up to Chelsea to check out the film last night.

It’s a charming story about a woman who has allowed herself to become a “trophy housewife,” and how she reclaims her birthright – and then some – when her priggish, overbearing, condescending, philandering husband suffers a heart attack due to the stresses of a general strike. She finds her way and her self-confidence over the course of the film, inspiring people like her husband’s secretery (and mistress – an open secret that adds a stereotypically “french” feeling early on in the production). Deneuve plays Suzanne Pujol, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner. It’s no wonder that press has made sure to emphasize, to a generation who might not be familiar with Deneuve, exactly how sexually electrifying this woman has been over the years – and it’s utterly refreshing to see her being appreciated by the men in the film as a sexual being. But unlike the men, she has an appreciation of how the years have changed her internally. At one point, resisting the advances of Depardieu’s character, she recommends that they remain good friends: “It’s age appropriate,” she says.

The flashbacks add great depth to the film; we understand that Mme. Pujol may be age-appropriate now, but that her ideas of appropriateness were very different at different ages. I find the ending a bit jarring – in addition to finishing her election campaign with a song about the beauty of life (maybe it’s a song with cultural relevance in French-speaking countries?), Mme Pujol declares (in a moment that might remind viewers of Natalie Portman’s Black Swan Acceptance Speech) that she considers herself the “mother” of everyone in her district.

Kind of weird for a woman who’s just spent an entire film carving out a role for herself outside the home, but while members of her family caution her that “the age of patriarchy is over” and that the modern world had moved into an age of efficiency, outsourcing and the bottom line she sticks to her guns – and as she says herself: a social, human touch worked in breaking the factory strike – maybe there’s room for a “Potiche 2: President of France” in this franchise!

What do you say, Ms. Deneuve?