Potiche: Catherine Deneuve Takes Over the Store

The opening title card of François Ozon's 1977-set Potiche seems to take design inspiration from the exploitation films of that period—a sneaky-smart way of nodding to one of this pastel-colored political farce's key topics, if not its stylistic mode. As Suzanne, Catherine Deneuve plays the title role, which translates as "trophy wife"; she is married to the smarmy, unfaithful Robert (Fabrice Luchini), whose primary attraction to Suzanne appears to have been motivated by the umbrella factory she inherited from her father, which Robert now controls with cold capitalist efficiency. Still lovely at 60-something, Suzanne is cheerfully resigned to serving her husband and living passively in his shadow ("Your job is to share my opinion," he condescends). When Robert has a heart attack precipitated by a workers' strike, he presumes his wife will be a better-coiffed mouthpiece for his own managerial ideology and allows her to take over the factory while he convalesces. Seeking counsel from Babin (Gérard Depardieu), a local lefty pol and her long-ago lover, Suzanne puts her womanly wiles to work, making broad improvements to the business, while gradually, casually revealing that she never really let her marriage hold her back at all. Like its heroine, Potiche is deceptively lightweight, its camp, screwball fizziness giving way to a surprisingly cogent feminist parable in which the personal proves again and again to be the most volatile variable in the political.

 
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