This time, let me start with few questions. How often have you seen the French cinema goddess Catherine Deneuve jogging in a strikingly red tracksuit and wearing some hyper-granny-like dresses (which Parisian Vogue* described as probably the worse of her carrier). And how often have you seen her in a role of submissive bourgeois housewife, who ends up dancing to a sugar-sweet disco song of 70’s…with Gerard Depardieu? Not very often, I suppose? It is François Ozon’s latest movie Potiche, which reverses the order of things, making divas play odd roles.
In French, the word potiche stands for a figurehead, a person with representative functions only, having no real power or whatsoever. Sounds exactly like Deneuve’s role of Suzanne Pujol? Well, it is. She leads quite a lonely life in a long, dysfunctional marriage; her kids are grown-ups and her husband enjoys all the benefits of his young red-haired secretary. Luckily for Suzanne, they live in France and their owned umbrella factory gets seized by workers on strike. Her husband proves completely useless and suffers from a nervous breakdown, so it is for Suzanne to negotiate with the workers in order to arrange the situation. The taste of power is sweet, and she overthrows Mr Pujol, becoming a symbol of an emancipated woman (with a teeny-weeny help of her communist ex-lover Babin, played by Depardieu).
One thing that kept haunting me during the whole screening of the film, is the question of continuation. Knowing and seeing how much Ozon has been influenced by Jacques Demy, Potiche gives a strong impression of being an anecdotical continuation of Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It reflects with a laughter, how would Geneviève’s and Roland’s marriage look like in years, plus revealing some piquant details of her love life. In short, Demy is everywhere in this film – the kitsch and flagrant set, the topic of the movie and elements of a musical…
Though, Potiche deals with some serious issues, thus being perfect ground for a comedy, altogether it leaves quite a horrible impression. Firstly, it is Ozon’s cinematography, which tends to get weaker and weaker with every movie. Seems that he has some serious difficulties to put on the screen his ideas. Let me indulge you – it is clear, that he wanted to make this movie as a witty, cinematographically rich comedy, and it would be a great work, if he’d succeeded to do so. Whether it is the wrong crew, that does not have enough understanding among its members, whether this is the director, losing his touch – the outcome is very far from witty. Some very poor dialogues, very linear screenplay makes you want to doze-off… The work of the cameraman, which is rather uneventful, does not increase the interest in film. I guess, by making it less dynamic, Ozon wanted to stress the presence of the dimension of theater, since Potiche has been adapted from a play of the same title (by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy). But if one is not capable to keep gracefully to the domain of cinema, it is a rather bad idea to involve other stage arts. After a very well done and lively trailer, the 103 minutes of the film were a major disappointment.
Luckily, Ozon hasn’t yet lost his touch for colorful and kitsch ambience, which is one of the rare pleasures in this film. Another, of course, is the presence of Catherine Deneuve. Being the central figure in Potiche, she manages to make this movie bearable.
* Vogue Paris, November 2010, No. 912.