Potiche (Trophy Wife)
There’s a video which has been making its way around the Internet wherein Daniel Craig, the most recent 21st century James Bond, is dressed in drag and being grilled under harsh lights by Dame Judi Dench, in her M persona. This video appears courtesy of the group We Are Equals, which is a coalition of various charities devoted towards promoting equality between the sexes and genders.
As a 21st century woman myself, I always find it a little maddening to think that even with all of our society’s advances in technology and social standing, we are continuing to talk about women’s rights and why they still need to be a concern. Which made my viewing of Potiche on International Women’s Day a little more interesting than usual.
Based on a 1980 play by the same name from writers Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, the story of Potiche (aka “Trophy Wife”) revolves around Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Denueve), the well-meaning grande dame of a factory town in France. It’s 1977 and her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) who took control of the company after Suzanne’s father died is battling against the umbrella factory’s union leaders who are goaded by the town’s leftist-leaning mayor, Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu). A strike and a violent confrontation with the protesters leaves Robert incapacitated and Suzanne in charge of the factory and the negotiations with the union leaders.
It’s a job for which Suzanne is ill-prepared as for the last 30 years, she has done nothing more strenuous than maintain her figure by jogging and maintain the household and raise their two children Joëlle (Judith Godrèche) and Laurent (Jérémie Renier). And yet, because this is a French comedy by one of its “New Wave” directors, by the time the credits roll, everything has been turned upside down in the most delightful way.
Several times, the film went into a different direction than I expected, especially during a climactic scene between Suzanne and her former lover Maurice, which takes place along the road where they first met. In a different story, the sentimentality would be dripping from the trees; in Ozon’s hands (as the original play ends well before this point), the turn is swift and humorous, yet filled with the usual poignancy you expect from French film.
All of the performances are fantastic, especially Deneuve as Suzanne who has to carry the film and make a modern audience sympathize with a character type which is currently only in fashion if your favorite TV show’s name begins with “The Real Housewives Of….” And as long as I’m handing them out, kudos also go to Godrèche for managing to make Joëlle, who takes after her heavy-handed father, into a more nuanced, sympathetic character and Karin Viard as Nadège, Robert’s private secretary and trophy mistress.
An extra congratulatory note goes to César-nominated costume designer Pascaline Chavanne for not only being able to properly evoke the late 1970s but for also reflecting Suzanne’s growth into her new role through her wardrobe and styling. Here’s hoping the “Mad Men” costumers are taking notes for their future seasons.
If there’s a complaint I have, it is that in order to accommodate Ozon’s additions to the story (which my companion and I estimated takes about 30 minutes of screen time), the entire depiction of Suzanne’s learning curve–her “sports training montage” if you will–is shoved aside and swept under the rug. But then again, this is a comedy with some dramatic moments, and as such, I’ll let it slide.
If you missed out on celebrating International Women’s Day yesterday, you can celebrate it again by catching Potiche at your nearest indie cinema on March 25. Go ahead, I’ll wait.