Thursday, March 31, 2011

Film review: French film lions add weathered charm to 'Potiche'

Catherine Deneuve and Fabrice Luchini in Potiche.

By John Thomason

An alternative title of‭ ‬Potiche could have been‭ ‬Men on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.‭ ‬In this,‭ ‬the latest film from French directorial chameleon François Ozon,‭ ‬the men are the irrational ones‭ – ‬clingy,‭ ‬petulant and generally bewildered‭ – ‬while the film’s female protagonist,‭ ‬played by Catherine Deneuve,‭ ‬is the film’s rational,‭ ‬resolute,‭ ‬forward-thinking,‭ ‬confident and wholly electable moral center.‭

It’s never been surprising that women can be all of these things,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬but in the ostentatiously sexist context of‭ ‬Potiche,‭ ‬set in the industrial‭ ‬1970s,‭ ‬Deneuve’s muscular and intellectual outpacing of her male counterparts causes quite a stir.

Loosely adapted from a‭ ‬1980s French play and staged largely in and around an umbrella factory full of disgruntled workers,‭ ‬Potiche looks at feminism and worker’s rights in an era that saw little of either.‭ ‬Fabrice Luchini plays Robert Pujol,‭ ‬the buffoonish,‭ ‬adulterous,‭ ‬antiunion proprietor of the factory who is all but overthrown by his deceptively airy trophy wife Suzanne‭ (‬Deneuve‭)‬.‭ ‬She gains a majority stake in the company and proceeds to properly compensate its workers and modernize its stock,‭ ‬with some help from her best frenemy:‭ ‬Gerard Depardieu,‭ ‬a Old Guard left-wing politician who’s as big as Michael Moore‭ (‬in more ways that one:‭ ‬You need an awfully wide screen to frame Depardieu’s increasingly morbid girth‭)‬.‭

Depardieu’s Maurice Babin had a fling with Suzanne in another life,‭ ‬and he’s since played the jilted lover as convincingly as the jaded leftist.‭ ‬When it’s revealed that Maurice may in fact be the father of Suzanne’s liberal son Laurent‭ (‬Jérémie Renier‭)‬,‭ ‬it creates more comic schisms in a family already divided by politics.

Potiche is reminiscent thematically‭ – ‬and‭ ‬only thematically‭ – ‬of the recent‭ ‬Made in Dagenham,‭ ‬another historical look at the nexus of women’s rights and labor rights.‭ ‬But unlike the preachy,‭ ‬humorless‭ ‬Dagenham,‭ ‬Potiche is as light and refreshing as a pinafore.

Joyously colorful,‭ ‬just like the loudest Almodovar films,‭ ‬Potiche is a loopy and self-conscious comedy that takes its serious thematic grounding and sends it soaring into a deliberately artificial cinematic landscape full of unusual editing transitions,‭ ‬a cartoony score and hilariously stilted flashbacks.‭ ‬It’s hard to take this lush fantasy too seriously when one of the first shots in the film is of fornicating squirrels,‭ ‬one of many images of nature’s bounty that enlivens Suzanne’s exercise route.

This film has received some of Ozon’s best theatrical distribution in some time,‭ ‬probably playing on the most screens since‭ ‬2003‭’‬s erotic thriller‭ ‬Swimming Pool.‭ ‬It’s practically a wide release compared to his most recent features,‭ ‬Ricky and‭ ‬Hideaway,‭ ‬two tonally polarized takes on pregnancy and its aftershocks.‭ ‬In South Florida,‭ ‬these films only played short runs at the Tower Theatre and the Regal South Beach‭; ‬Potiche,‭ ‬by contrast,‭ ‬sold out the substantial Gusman Center in March’s Miami International Film Festival and packed another house a few weeks later at the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

It’s easy to see why‭; ‬it’s a charming audience movie,‭ ‬not very demanding on those with subtitle phobia,‭ ‬and equally rewarding for mass audiences and urbane cinephiles alike.‭ ‬Deneuve and Depardieu,‭ ‬the last lions of the‭ ’‬70s French cinema mainstream,‭ ‬aren’t getting any younger,‭ ‬but they have a lot of fun satirizing politics,‭ ‬history and themselves under Ozon’s sardonic camera.

POTICHE.‭Distributor:‭ ‬Music Box Films‭; ‬Director:‭ ‬Francois Ozon‭; ‬Cast:‭ ‬Catherine Deneuve,‭ ‬Gérard Depardieu,‭ ‬Fabrice Luchini,‭ ‬Karin Viard,‭ ‬Judith Godrèche,‭ ‬Jérémie Renier‭; ‬in French with English subtitles.‭ ‬Rating:‭ ‬R‭; ‬Opens:‭ ‬Friday‭; ‬Venues:‭ ‬Regal Shadowood‭ ‬16,‭ ‬Regal Delray Beach,‭ ‬Movies of Delray,‭ ‬Movies of Lake Worth,‭ ‬COBB Jupiter‭ ‬18,‭ ‬PGA Cinamax‭ ‬6,‭ ‬Frank‭ ‬Gateway‭ ‬4,‭ ‬Frank Theaters at Sunrise‭ ‬11,‭ ‬Frank‭ ‬Intracoastal‭ ‬8,‭ ‬Regal South Beach‭ ‬18‭ ‬and Coral Gables Art Cinema.

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