This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 3rd July 2011
“Potiche” means trophy wife in French, and Catherine Deneuve plays the very best of them in this latest romp from director Francois Ozon (8 Women). Boasting considerable talent and an already shimmering career, Ozon can also do prickly (Swimming Pool) and heartfelt (as in the devastating 5 x 2). He brings together all these tones in this inspired pastiche of 1970s family melodrama, complete with production design and social attitudes of the time.
Suzanne is pampered but largely ignored by her self-serving, tyrannical husband Robert (a superb Fabrice Luchini), the manager of her dead father’s umbrella factory. When the workers go on strike, Robert fails to talk them round – and inexplicably Suzanne finds she has a certain je ne sais quoi in the line of people management. Supported by her artistic son Laurent (Jeremie Renier playing joyously against type) and belittled by daughter Joelle, Suzanne turns out to be much wiser than anyone thought, and certainly not someone to be kept on a shelf.
The fast-paced story is enormous fun, and the performances uniformly excellent. In view of recent sexist comments made by men at the top of business, it may even have added resonance for some.