‘Potiche’

‘Potiche’, meaning approximately, ‘trophy wife’ is a French comedy set in 1977.

I went to see it knowing nothing more than that, other than it starred Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, and made the choice solely on that basis.

For the first thirty minutes of watching I kept telling myself that it must be more than it appeared to be, otherwise Catherine Deneuve wouldn’t have spent her time on it.  And gradually, its silly charm won me over.

It’s a parody and pastiche of life in that period.  The colours are bright pastels, the cars are the boxy shapes from childhood, and the attitudes are ancient pre feminism.

Deneuve plays the trophy wife, Suzanne, believing herself happy, looking after her bad tempered and unfaithful husband, taking her morning run in curlers and red tracksuit communing with ‘nature’ and writing little verses in a notebook she has in her pocket.

When her husband’s intransigence precipitates a strike in the umbrella factory originally started by Suzanne’s father which he now managed, he suffers a heart attack.  Suzanne is forced to step into the managerial breach, and with the help of the communist Mayor, Deputy played by Depardieu (twinkly and tender, but now looking to be twice the man he was in his prime), turns the factory around.

When her husband recovers, Suzanne is not prepared to relinquish control and family schism ensues.  Excluded from the factory, Suzanne stands for election to Parliament and defeats the Depardieu character.  She sails into the future, a glamorous politician perhaps modelled on the Thatcher look, but singing a love song to her supporters at her victory rally.

Much of the pastiche is painted in very bold bright strokes with not much subtlety.  However, if looked at as a satire of French contemporary  political life, it is perhaps easier to understand why a stage farce from the 1980s has been produced now.  At a time of deep conservatism poking fun at old fashioned roles raises some interesting questions.

At one point Suzanne’s husband says of the workers ‘if they want more money, they have to do  more work’, and there is an echo of some of Sarkozy’s recent pronouncements.  The focus on the role of the wife, is also a hint at the rather conflicted views of the Sarkozy marriage and how it has been thrust into the news in a way never before experienced in French political life.

But leaving that to one side, watching Deneuve and Depardieu doing a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ parody on an illuminated flashing disco floor, at the Badaboum night club is worth the price of admission alone.

Let the first half hour or so wash over you, and let the silliness win you over.  Remember it’s French, and their comedies always have a different tone to British and American ones, savour all the cinematic references they manage to squeeze in, and you may find you have a smile on your face by the end, when Deneuve starts to sing.

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