PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am


Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Jeremie Renier
Director: Francois Ozon

Having spent the past decade delivering tense, mostly tragic stories about the suffering of women, Francois Ozon returns to campy-comedy territory with a film about a 'trophy wife' (the meaning of its French title) who liberates herself from the sexist constraints around her to forge a bright (and gaudy) future for herself.

Set in the late 1970s, Potiche sees Ozon reunited with Catherine Deneuve - the leading player in the director's musical comedy 8 Women - who stars here as Suzanne, the wife of umbrella manufacturer Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), an all-round chauvinist who demands his wife 'share my opinions' and be content with being 'the queen of kitchen appliances'.

When a strike and an ailment force Robert to take temporary leave from his office, Suzanne takes over the factory - which was her family's before Robert took the helm - and turns things around. She strikes a deal with the unions and re-energises the workforce with a more humane management approach. She also shoots down a proposal drafted by the (unseen) husband of her daughter Jo?lle (Judith Godreche), to outsource production to Tunisia. Instead. Suzanne finds an ally in her son Laurent (Jeremie Renier), who returns to the family business to help in the redesign of goods.

Suzanne adroitly secures the support of the communist mayor, Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), with whom she once had a brief extra-marital fling.

Merry is the word here, as Potiche is a gleeful romp, a hilarious social satire and a pastiche of a certain tendency in classic French cinema (the stagey aesthetic of Jacques Demy). Underneath the feel-good surface, however, lies a social critique which ranks as Ozon's heaviest, as best summed up by a remark made by Laurent (whose late-in-the-film conversion of sorts reveals him as a proxy of the director himself): paternalism is dead and it's been replaced by unbridled capitalism.

By launching into the cynical, profiteering instincts of (mostly male) entrepreneurs and the decline of the establishment left (as embodied in the embittered Babin), Ozon offers a snapshot of the start of the rot which would lead to the Sarkozy era in France today.

Extras: making-of featurette, original and 1970s-style trailer.