Catherine Deneuve has sold me too many bottles of Chanel Number 5. Even at 67, she oozes tons more sexiness that the collective female casts of the last three Judd Apatow movies. She is amazingly beautiful and has that astonishing presence that defines French sexiness.
So the casting of this movie is brilliant. “Potiche” means ornamental but largely useless object and is usually used to describe a small thing, like a vase. Within seconds of the start of this movie, we are thrown into a fantastic Disney pastiche of Snow White, with Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) talking to the animals in a rather Doctor Doolittle way.
After many years of marriage to the traditional Robert (Fabrice Luchini, who vaguely reminds me of an annoying ex). Suzanne is beyond bored, but putting up with things via magnificent manners and glorious grooming.
Many of the allegedly 1977 touches are wrong. These fabrics and home furnishings did not exist then. But if you share a continuity fiend with me, you won’t mind this for long as you are whooshed along with the most glorious of French farce/feminist fantasy scenarios imaginable.
It’s enormously warm and very funny. A strike at an umbrella factory combined with Robert’s ill health sets Suzanne on the road to somewhere new. So far, so Cherbourg. Yet the keen viewer will note that you are in Belgium, even though the film is explicitly set in France. Trust me on this. You are definitely in Belgium. The clue is in the “tax credits de Belgique” in the credits, if you don’t spot it in the opening scenes.
Enter Gerard Depardieu, a very large Mayor and Communist MP. When did his nose go solo? Why does it appear to have a separate existence from him and why is it in two pieces? You aren’t fascinated by this for very long, as the lighting around him softens. Francois Ozen loves older faces – “Swimming Pool” and “Eight Women” prove that – and our Gerard is key to the plot.
Or is he? No, this is Catherine Deneuve’s movie from start to finish. Strange choices are made to make her shine (as if those were needed). In the beginning, we see her jogging. Now, my Catherine ( really, she is) has a curiously pigeon-toed gait. And oddly large lower legs. Yet, a lower leg double strides confidently and looks very different from Catherine’s own legs and feet in these scenes, like when Montreal substitutes for New York in American movies. It jars the keen viewer, but, again, not for long.
There is more here for girls than for boys. The men don’t know but the little girls understand, as Jim Morrison said. Lots of super performances and a sparking script keep the whole thing moving fast. I was beyond tired from delays in travel, but I didn’t look at my watch once.
All 10 of us at the Stratford Picturehouse laughed a lot. It seems a great shame there weren’t more of us as everyone really enjoyed it. I can quibble with subtitles for an Olympic team, but these were very good. They missed out on some musical nuances and some language depth – clearly done by an English native – but they were above the usual standard.
Jeremie Renier, Judith Godreche and Karin Viard stand out in the smaller roles. I do have quibbles. It would be better if the young Suzanne and Robert looked a little more like Deneuve and Luchini whose youthful faces are engraved in my brain. The kids are alright, but they are much less interesting than the older actors. I dispute the English title of “Trophy Wife” but I will have that argument with you another time. I have a fussbudget linguist resident in me, always.
Also, “Pujol” is clearly a short form of “plus jolie” which is great for Catherine but not so great for Fabrice. Life’s cute fairy did not gift him, on this level. After seeing this, I want to buy those Kandinsky umbrellas. I already have the t-shirt.
Belgium looks good. The factory strike, innovative ideas and outsourcing plots are wickedly funny and very cleverly done. No, I don’t believe Catherine Deneuve jogs. Who cares? It’s a terrific film. See it. You will be lifted and made to think. How rare is that?