Carry on madame
IT’S 1977 and trophy wife Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is busy keeping house, keeping herself pretty and keeping up bourgeois appearances with her domineering, philandering husband Robert (Luchini) who she shares with a mistress and several nightclub hostesses.
Across town, the family umbrella factory is in disarray as the workers, marshalled by socialist firebrand Babin (Depardieu), demand reform. Robert’s not for turning, but his neglected wife has ancient indiscretions on her side. Her dainty and unexpected interventions in the class struggle promise a whole new kind of womanhood and at least one memorable evening on the dance floor.
No French film has ever resembled Carry On at Your Convenience more closely than François Ozon’s latest comedy of manners. A daft, mostly delightful farce based around 1970s colour schemes, labour relations and unreconstructed patriarchs, Potiche – literally, a decorative knick-knack – sees Deneuve defrost into self-deprecating friskiness.
Whether jogging in soft-focus, making the toast or singing along to former Eurovision entries, the Grande Dame proves herself a game lass. When she cosies up to Depardieu for the umpteenth time in her career, there’s a new knowing quality to their exchanges. Likewise, Depardieu (who has started dropping the pounds since the making of Potiche, but here appears at his heaviest) is happy to play up the length of time he requires to walk around a desk to great comic effect.
The Depardieu and Deneuve who perform a hilarious disco routine here are less dashing and romantic than the actors who appeared together in François Truffaut’s The Last Metro or André Téchiné’s Changing Times. But their charms and comic beats have improved with age.
It’s a shame the film’s superfluous last act – a tacked-on and misconceived political subplot – descends into chaos. At its best, Potiche is perfectly pitched, shamelessly flamboyant pastiche. The wallpaper is green, the conversations concern Kandinsky and Catherine Deneuve is selling umbrellas.