French film director and screenwriter François Ozon proffers a satirically hilarious look at the life of a “potiche” (trophy wife) in his adaptation of the hit comic play of that same name.
Ozon’s Potiche takes Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy’s original play and turns it into his own modern work of art while successfully maintaining the verve of the story’s originial 1970s location.
Set in 1977 in a provincial town of France, Potiche depicts the story of Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve) and her rise from potiche to head of an umbrella factory to a feminist politician. Though Suzanne enjoys success, Ozon also details the love triangle between Suzanne, Suzanne’s unfaithful, despotic husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) and Robert’s vying unionist rival, Babin (Gérard Depardieu).
The film starts with a quasi-showgirl intro that depicts Suzanne running through a park, decked out in fancy exercise clothes and strutting what she’s got, or at least what she thinks she’s got. The opening scene introduces two of the main problems presented in the film: individual identity and the insecurities of aging love.
The themes help Ozon interweave his characters, forming a web of multiple sub-plots and vacillating relationships. Ozon’s characters each struggle with their successful careers and independent identities, creating an ongoing strife between the different sexes and classes portrayed in the film.
Ozon makes excellent use of his talented cast, drawing fine lines between the male and female characters.
Perhaps the most important inter-female relationship in the film is the one between Suzanne and her daughter, Joëlle (Judith Godrèche). Joëlle serves as her mother’s foil during the film’s course, representing liberalism as an independent single mother.
By the end of the film, however, Ozon drastically swaps their roles as Suzanne develops a political career and Joëlle submits to the bonds of marriage and conservatism.
When it comes to the men, Robert serves as Ozon’s most accessible figure of male ridicule and stereotype. Robert is a tyrannical husband, master and father tri-figure who morphs into quite the opposite by the end of the film.
Robert’s role is central to the plot of the film, but Suzanne’s son Laurent (Jérémie Renier) is arguably Ozon’s most shocking vehicle for social and sexual commentary, posing as a potential candidate for incest.
The film presents a questionable relationship between Paul and a “girlfriend.” Ozon reveals throughout the film’s progression that the purported “girlfriend” is most likely male, and possibly one of Suzanne’s bastard sons, raising one of Ozon’s classic yet notorious questions: Is it incest if there is no chance of having a child?