By Rich Cline
A sense of barbed optimism infuses this 1977-set French comedy. Not only does it keep a smile on our faces, but it also quietly says some potent things about old prejudices that still linger in Western society.
Life-loving Suzanne (Deneuve) is married to uptight umbrella factory manager Robert (Luchini). Their daughter Joelle (Godreche) is fed up with her controlling husband, determined not to become a trophy wife like her mother, while their son Laurent (Renier) is marrying someone Robert feels is unacceptable. Meanwhile, the union is on strike for better conditions, and when Robert refuses to give his workers anything, Suzanne starts negotiating with a union-friendly local politician Maurice (Debardieu) with whom she has a past.
Soon the children and Robert's secretary (Viard) are in the middle of a farce.
Cheeky and charming, the film has a hilarious 1970s vibe, with colourful visuals and groovy music. Deneuve is clearly having a ball, breezing through each scene as if she's about to break into song or dance (she does both).
Suzanne is a terrific character, a woman who has always been underestimated and sidelined finally getting the chance to let her intellect out of its cage. The title refers to a French expression about the final drop in the vase that makes it overflow (potiche means both vase and trophy wife).
As a director, the versatile Ozon keeps the source play's limited perspective: the larger action happens off-screen while we watch the characters react.
Besides keeping the film brisk and breezy, this heightens the comedy and keeps us personally involved without being distracted by union riots or side relationships. Instead, Ozon tightly controls the freewheeling plot, revealing outrageous secrets with a smirk and setting characters up for sparky confrontations.
Along the way, the film explores class-consciousness from several angles while poking fun at sexism and snobbery. Suzanne is forced to confront both, and Deneuve's effortless performance means that the film never feels preachy. Her interaction with Luchini and Depardieu crackles with subtext that keeps us chuckling even as the story grapples with these big, relevant issues. But then, it's all so light and charming that most viewers won't even notice, merely seeing it as a quirky period in the past. If only.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 10th November 2010
Box Office Worldwide: $1.6M
Distributed by: Music Box Films
Production compaines: France Télévision, Mandarin Films Distribution Co., FOZ, France 2 Cinéma, Mars Distribution, Wild Bunch, Scope Pictures, Canal+
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 93 Rotten: 19
Cast & Crew