Potiche

Recommended if you don’t have a chemical imbalance caused by sub-titles.

PotichePotiche is a light-hearted sexual farce that is a shining example as to why French film makers are so much better than their American counterparts with this type of subject matter. To begin with, they start out with an obvious, built-in advantage given that they have the sexy, elegant Catherine Deneuve while we are stuck with the likes of Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston.

Equally important, the French have none of our own hang-ups concerning the subject of sex in general. They view sexual relationships with impish delight while we as a country still
carry the psychological burden left to us by our strict, humorless Puritan forefathers. Put another way, the French openness in dealing with sexuality is best demonstrated by the fact that the late Prime Minister, Francois Mitterand, had his long-time mistress attend his funeral, not standing very far from his wife, while we Americans walk around like modern day Hester Prynnes with Scarlet A’s indelibly imprinted on our subconcious.

In Potiche, Ms. Deneuve plays Suzanne Pujol, a self-described trophy housewife. Having inherited her father’s umbrella company which was then given to her husband to run as part of her dowery, she has been called upon to do little more in life than look great, raise two children and write her poetry while tending to the needs of her domineering husband. Fabrice Luchini plays Suzanne’s husband, Robert, a man singularly dedicated to paying his militant union employees as little as possible while personally overseeing Draconian working conditions. As a result, the workers are either continually on strike, or threatening to do so, causing Robert such stress that he is constantly on the edge of a heart attack.

Mr. Luchini plays the husband with great relish, particularly given the fact that he is supremely unlikeable on all levels. He not only is banging his secretary, but it is clear that his marriage to Suzanne has been riddled with numerous other affairs. And yet, the French being who they are, Robert comes off as a somewhat sympathetic fellow despite all of his obvious flaws. Suzanne is comfortable in her own skin, and she really does not desire to rock her marital boat as long as her husband uses some discretion with his repeated peccadilloes.

However, everyone’s world comes crashing down when Robert has a heart attack, causing Suzanne to step into the void and run the company. She discovers that her inherent goodness wins over the skeptical employees, and she ends up overseeing a company that quickly becomes far more productive than when her husband was running it with his oppressive tactics.

Deneuve is, as always, sensational. Unlike our country’s Botox fixation with trying to hold on to eternal youth, Deneuve has aged with style, still manifesting a natural, sensual grace
that dominates the screen with her every appearance. At the age of 67, there is nothing artificial about her beauty. She stands in sharp contrast to many American women whose unfortunate pursuit of endless plastic surgery have left many with faces not found in nature.

What adds to Potiche’s fun are several appealing supporting performances, the most prominent one coming from Gerard Depardieu. Shockingly overweight, Mr. Depardieu still carries his portly frame with charm and dignity as a long-time militant member of the French Parliament who has always stood on the side of workers and their battles with their employers. He is also a former lover of Suzanne’s, a complication that leads to some entertaining lunacy when her serial philandering husband inadvertently discovers that fact.

Potiche functions more like a stage play than a movie, and the sight of the various members of the Pijol family frequently stabbing each other with subtle yet stinging invective creates a madcap atmosphere that is likely to have you smiling from beginning to end. Yes, it is in sub-titles, but since there is no plastic surgery that can eliminate that problem, suck it up and go. I’m quite certain you won’t be disappointed.