Saturday, November 19, 2011

POTICHE reviewed for my non-European friends

It's a 2010 French retro-film (set in the late 70s with horrendously kitsch but accurate polyester clothes, and deliberately garish color schemes via the crew's perceptive art dept.) about a complacent rich trophy wife who rises to the occasion of being a very competent businesswoman with eventual higher feminist aspirations when her bullying husband Monsieur Pujol, who runs
her father's factory, falls sick.

That sounds pretty dry, but after a deceptively slow first fifteen minutes to establish everyone's seemingly immutable lot in life, la merde hits the fan and "Potiche" can be a scream!

Example: the wife joining with her husband's mistress in the striking factory workers' chant of " Pujol, asshole! Pujol, asshole!" (or at least that's how the captions read in English. What little translation I did remember seemed okay for the slang.) Now picture the actualization of Gerard Depardieu '70s disco-ballroom dancing with his fellow acting icon Catherine Deneuve. And the latter even singing her speech during a plot twist at the very end (reminiscent of the oddness of Kitano Takeshi's "Yojimbo" samurai remake ending in a huge dance number.) French farce indeed!

However, like la belle Deneuve herself, there is hidden depth to the pretty picture seen by the world. The undercurrent of the movie is about youthful alliances and promise, and eventual choices we've made over the years that deviate from same far more than planned, plus life's turmoil when they're re-confronted and turned topsy turvy by freak happenstance.

The universality of the leads' star power charisma plus the film's entertaining contradictions (light+ serious, witty+ silly) warrant delving into the "special features." We can witness Ms. Deneuve's incredible patience with M. Depardieu's nonstop clowning around between takes, although he more than redeems himself with a touching address to the entire crew and cast on the last day of the shoot. He, in all aspects, now is the Marlon Brando of France, oui? Outsized talent, outsized everything.

Stickler's point: as usual, non-classic French music can wax a bit soppy to the ears of my fellow edgy Americans, but bear with it for an overall highly rewarding film.

Bonus irony for cogniscienti of French cinema or Deneuve's c.v.: the Pujol business is an umbrella factory, a sly upgrade of 1964's "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (still pictured below) a breakout role for the then just out of her teens and sublime Deneuve...

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