Sunday, 17 July 2011

Potiche (Trophy Wife)

Potiche Time

Potiche (Trophy Wife) France 2010
Directed by François Ozon
Playing at cinemas now (just about).

I’m not sure there’s too much I could say about François Ozon’s new (to this country) film Potiche. Certainly it’s a fun film, based on a stage play the director had seen ten years earlier and set in 1977. The director and cast, among them French legends Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, certainly seem to be having fun and the whole proceedings seem to be injected with the same campy humour that suffused the same directors brilliant 8 Women, rather than being in sympathy with the razor sharp twist Ozon who gave us the haunting Swimming Pool (that very last shot really turns the whole movie around!).

The story is pretty much a farce where a barely significant trophy wife played by Deneuve takes over her licentiously unfaithful but ailing husband’s umbrella company (originally her fathers and essentially her dowry) and turns it around into a major success before family politics get in the way. She does, however, go on to bigger and better things by the end of the movie and, of course, all the “factory business” brings her back into contact with the mayor, a socialist “commoner” who she had a sexual liaison with some years before and, naturally, their spark is rekindled somewhat.

This is a colourful film with some nice little laughs (although I didn’t laugh as loud as the upper-middle class London audience, it has to be said) and while it’s certainly a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, there were definitely, in my humble opinion anyway, some missteps along the way... and they’re mostly about the tone of capturing something that’s supposed to be set in 1977. This seems out by about 20 years, as though Ozon's looking back through such a miasma of nostalgia that he’s overplayed things completely... because this movie looks and feels like mid-fifties/early sixties cinema.

The music doesn’t help things either... seriously, I absolutely adored Philippe Rombi’s score for this one, in fact it’s mostly what I was concentrating on and enjoying throughout the whole movie (which says to me that it’s pretty overscored) but it sounds definitively Bernard Hermann from the same period I mentioned above. There’s one sequence where Deneuve first drives to see Gerard Depardieu in her car and then walks a long corridor in a block of apartments... the driving sequence reminded me very much of the scenes of Marion Crane’s flight from her misdeeds in Psycho and then it all gets filtered through the sensibilities of Vertigo as she walks down a corridor lit in red and greens and all the while the music is telling me... Herrmann/Hitchcock/ Herrmann/Hitchcock/ Herrmann/Hitchcock over and over.

Other sequences play out very much like an old 60s Doris Day/Rock Hudson vehicle... but this kind of tribute was better done in Down With Love (to perfection) and, again, seems oddly out of place for a movie which is supposed to be set in the same year that Star Wars came out in cinemas. A token scene with a disco thrown in, whether it was done in the original stage version or not, does not really seem to make up for the lack of period authenticity. So this mixture of unique periodic vegetables are perhaps more of a potage than a potiche.

The trappings of the stage show have also, as one would expect, not been fully overcome. Like many movies based on theatrical productions, this movie is mostly interior scenes with external locations looking like they’ve been tagged on to open up the settings a bit...but frankly, I don’t mind this too much because if I’m seeing an adaptation of a play then I’d much rather see something closer to the original piece, I suspect, than something which has been completely changed around to give the story a more credible image to audiences (like myself) who are unfamiliar with the original stage production.

Hmmm... it’s sounding like I’m a bit down on this film but I’m really not. Potiche is a perfect example of a movie which depicts female self-empowerment and it’s also got some laughs, terrific performances and some nice production values along to boot (even if those production values seem to have overshot their retrofitting by a couple of decades). And I think all films which deal with issues of female empowerment should be supported and watched... especially when they’re playing to limited audiences in a cinematic environment where rampant summer blockbuster are dominating all the screens by themselves on multiple, staggered screen performances. This release is not well timed to find the audience it deserves methinks... so you might want to seek it out while it’s still, barely, around in some areas.


  1. Just seen this movie and your review pretty much nails it for me. I found it a bit obvious and lightweight but I'm glad I saw it. I always like to see female empowerment too (well I would as I'm a woman struggling against my internalised oppression with limited success.) Found the reversal of social assumptions in the son & daughter interesting. Sandy

  2. Hi there.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Perhaps if you externalise your oppression and make the oppressors aware of it, it will crack under the pressure and wash away?