Published May 12, 2011Ever the playfully witty satirist, François Ozon typically makes films emulating traditionalist heteronormative genre and period pieces, occasionally by specific filmmakers, repeatedly subverting the formula through unconventional gender performance and candid sexuality. He's calmed down over the years, adopting a subtler tone than his early, riskier, crazed films (Sitcom and Criminal Lovers), but the template of formula, subversion, repeat remains.
Such is the case with frothy '70s throwback comedy Potiche, wherein Catherine Deneuve plays the titular trophy wife, forced out of her life of material frivolity when she has to replace her philandering husband as CEO of their umbrella factory following his heart attack. From the opening scene, a soft-focus, '70s aesthetic, misleading and melodramatic soundtrack, and intentionally clumsy exposition make it clear that this is a playful critique of times and styles passed.
The tone of camp depravity also makes its appearance during the opening scene, following Deneuve along her morning jog, lips pursed, hair styled, prancing along like the queen in a red tracksuit (the first of many political references), happening upon beauteous images of nature, like a doe emerging from the woods, only to then see two rabbits aggressively fornicating. This latter, slightly out of place seediness is the comic trajectory of the entire film, popping up at the end of each deliberately staged and seemingly familiar sequence.
It reinforces a pervading theme of politics and gender as synonymous motivators, with Deneuve embracing a maternal, caring, pseudo-communist leadership style, compared to her tyrannical, capitalist husband. Secondary storylines involving past romantic trysts and the possibility that her effeminate son, Laurent (Jérémie Renier), may have a different father further work to distort the image of the caring mother as chaste saint.
If more frothy than intellectual, Ozon's latest stab at comedy is nothing if not consistently amusing and aesthetically engrossing. Deneuve demonstrates natural comic timing and the fantastically balanced act of a wise and worldly woman exploiting external perceptions by acting like a flirty simpleton. (eOne)