The trailers for Francois Ozon’s Potiche look fairly atrocious, so it’s a surprise to see why it’s been sticking around. The film is based on a 1970s farce by Barillet and Gredy (Cactus Flower), and Ozon (working with cinematographer Yorick Le Saux of I Am Love) goes vintage Hollywood. So many films now are made by people who don’t know how to work a color wheel, so the flood of color here is fairly intoxicating. Ozon wields tricky shades of orange and forest green before turning to more flamboyant rose colors. (The action takes place at an umbrella factory, so Ozon can get in a tribute to the colors of Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg as well.)
The premise is lightly feminist: a “potiche” (trophy wife) of 1977, played by Catherine Denueve, is under the thumb of her factory-owning husband (the undersized Fabrice Luchini). Though he married into the business, the chauvinist pig still conducts himself as if he built the factory from the ground up. Moreover, he’s sleeping with his secretary (the ace comedian Karin Viard). When the boss is taken hostage by his striking employees, Mrs. Pujol is left to sort things out. Fortunately, she has a liaison: she once had a cross-class affair with the local communist MP (Gerard Depardieu).
Depardieu is now as huge as a Frigidaire, and his trademark pumpkin-shell haircut is going thin, but he does have some gallantry left. Despite his lumbering bulk, he makes the premise work; he’s holding forth an ancient regime French tradition of romance doing what politics can’t.
Like Made in Dagenham before it, Potiche has a deeper nostalgic appeal than the clothes, the color and the sugar-frosted pop music. Being farce, it’s a reinforcement job, not a demolition, and recalls a time when labor had clout—before the only position for a worker was prone.
‘Potiche’ is currently playing at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa.