I don't think I've ever begun a review by praising the visual effects and production/costume design, but if I hadn't known that Catherine Deneuve was now in her sixties, I would have been convinced that this film was shot in the 1970s, instead of 2010. More than anything this film has to say, the look of it makes the biggest statement.
From the rounded-rectangle title sequence and peppy original music by Philippe Rombi to the sets and big hairspray hairstyles--even the look of the film stock--"Potiche" ("Trophy Wife," in English) looks authentically vintage. That's no small achievement.
Neither is the script by director Francois Ozon, who adapted it from a play. It too contributes to the overall feeling that we've just entered a time capsule to witness when women were still fighting for their rights--although the fight continues, since a 2005 U.S. census showed that males 25+ years had a higher yearly income than females 25+ among all races.
The gender gap is at the core of this French comedy with English subtitles, Deneuve playing the "trophy wife" who turns the tables on her husband. Suzanne Pujol was the daughter of an umbrella factory tycoon, and when her father died, it was her husband, Robert (Fabrice Luchini), who took over . . . not her. It was her "dowry," she later joked, without smiling.
The couple has a Carville-and-Matalin relationship, and the film wastes no time in establishing that Suzanne's labor-sensitive father was popular with the workers, while her conservative business-first husband is so unpopular that he's taken hostage during the most recent strike. It falls to his wife to negotiate with them and take over the umbrella factory; when she does, it turns out that fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. She is her father's daughter.
The secret is simple. More than her husband, she cares about people. She listens to the worker's demands and responds appropriately. She brings both her daughter Joëlle (Judith Godreche) and son Laurent ( Jerémie Renier) into the company, and her intuition pays off. But what would a French comedy be with some sexual goings-on? Gérard Depardieu plays Maurice Babin, the mayor and DP who still has a thing for Suzanne, though the affair they had many years ago (which may or may not have resulted in a child) is a thing of the past.
Robert, meanwhile has had mistresses constantly during their married life, the most recent of which is his secretary, Nadege (Karin Viard), who seems about as enthralled with him as Suzanne, lately. The acting is certainly competent enough, though Depardieu really doesn't have much to do except lumber around and try to look longing at Deneuve. Luchini has more to do, and he plays it believably until the unlikely third act, when his wife takes a sudden interest in politics after he tries to nudge her back into the kitchen.
"Potiche" plays out in predictable fashion, though, and maybe that's why I keep coming back to the production design in my head. It's a pleasant little comedy that has elements of mild farce mixed with a women's lib storyline and a characteristic French sprinkling of sex. But as a comedy, it also could (should?) have been funnier.
The encode is an AVC/MPEG-4 that looks very good, with colors tweaked to resemble the kind of comedies you'd see in 1977 but with far greater clarity and edge delineation. If there were any artifacts as a result of the transfer, I missed them. "Potiche" is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The featured audio is a French DTS-HD MA 5.1 with subtitles in English. The sound has plenty of pep but not much pop. Ambient sounds are limited to factory scenes, for the most part, with the Rombi score also channeling through all the speakers, as well as a dance club scene that perks things up. Otherwise, this dialogue-driven film is a bit front-heavy, which you'd expect. That said, the dialogue is clear and springy, and there's not a hint of distortion.
Included are a handful of brief bonus features: "Making of Potiche," which is awfully standard; costume tests, which will be of interest to would-be filmmakers; the theatrical trailer; and a fun "'70s Trailer."
Director Francois Ozon ("Swimming Pool," "8 Women," "Criminal Lovers") didn't appear to have to give much direction to Deneuve, who seems to know this character by heart and inhabits her as if she were her mother--with ease and a natural grace that comes from being comfortable with a character's mannerisms and mindset. Deneuve's performance and the artistic design make this film work, despite shortcomings in humor and plotting.