Carry on madame

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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.

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