Film Review: Potiche

Potiche is a charming comedy from director François Ozon. Catherine Deneuve steals the show with her performance as trophy housewife Suzanne Pujol.

In the late 1970s, Suzanne Pujol is made to feel like a trophy housewife by her husband Robert and two grown-up children. When Robert is taken hostage by his striking employees, Suzanne reluctantly takes control of the situation. As she takes over the reigns from Robert, Suzanne becomes an effective businesswoman, surprising everyone around her…

Potiche is an inoffensive and enjoyable film. Based on the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Ozon’s adaptation is peppered with delightful lines. The film is not outright hilarious, but there are some amusing incidents and dialogue which maintain the jovial tone.

Characters in the film veer between well developed and one-dimensional. Robert is rather synthetic as the philandering and power-hungry husband, while Jöelle is the typically selfish daughter. Nevertheless, town mayor Maurice is rather more interesting, as is secretary Nadège. The latter in particular is very involved in the affairs of the family, and shifts accordingly with the balance of power.

Clearly it is Suzanne who is most interesting. The picture of her that develops in the first section of the film is skewered some revelations. The second half of Potiche works almost like a parody of her character in the first. This flip shows the film’s ingenuity; offering viewers something unexpected. The same can be said for other characters such as Babin, albeit to a lesser extent. What at first seems like a rather straightforward narrative actually produces small twists, which help to generate humour.

The late 1970s setting is fantastically depicted in Potiche. Suzanne’s wardrobe is marvellous; the protagonist manages to make a tracksuit and apron seem glamorous. Similarly, the set design appears authentically of the period, as does the soundtrack. These are best illustrated in the scene where Suzanne visits the nightclub frequented by her husband.

Catherine Denueve is fantastic in Potiche. She really embodies the character, and delivers some of her wry lines very well. Gérard Depardieu is also good as leftist politician Babin. Fabrice Luchini makes the most of his role as the lecherous Robert Pujol. Karin Viard brings a touch of lightness to secretary Nadège.

Potiche probably will not be to everyone’s tastes, given that the comedy is lightly amusing rather than consistently hilarious. However, those who give it a go should find the film an enjoyable watch.

Film Review: My Afternoons with Marguerite

My Afternoons with Marguerite wisely avoids straying too far into schmaltz territory; a direction it could have easily taken, given the premise. The result is a sweet-natured film that never become too saccharine.

Germain Chazes is a middle-aged man with poor literacy. He begins chatting one day to Margueritte, a well-read elderly lady. Her love of reading ignites a spark in Germain, and the pair develop a friendship…

My Afternoons with Marguerite contains no real surprises, narratively speaking. This does not matter, however, as the film is a well-executed production. Based on the novel by Marie-Sabine Roger, the screenplay is warm and amusing. Jean Becker’s film flows easily from scene to scene, the tone striking the perfect balance.

My Afternoons with Marguerite is often funny, with humorous comments and interactions rather than raucous laughs. In its more sombre moments, the film never becomes too heavy; serious issues may be at play, but the tone is never bleak. Becker wisely bounces the action from scene to scene, so even one of Germain’s sad flashbacks will be shortly followed by some joviality at the cafe. The overall atmosphere of My Afternoons with Marguerite is a positive one; it is about overcoming rather than dwelling.

This is no more apparent than in protagonist Germain. Despite earlier setbacks, he is an upbeat character, showing affection to those, like his mother, who perhaps have been undeserving of it. It is made clear from the offset that Germain is not stupid; his earlier attempts to learn were hampered. Likewise, his awkward way with words, highlighted in his attempts to comfort Francine, is never intentional.

It is through his conversations with Margueritte that the best side of Germain shines through. In his friendship with the elderly lady, it becomes apparent that not only are they bonding over books; Germain also finds a loving mother figure, so different to his relationship with his own mother. Margueritte is the antithesis of Germain – articulate, well educated and petite – yet they share the same positive outlook.

Gérard Depardieu is excellent as Germain. The oafish appearance is a far cry from some of his earlier roles, yet Depardieu is wholly convincing as the protagonist. Gisèle Casadesus is well cast as Margueritte; the actress brings a gentleness to the role that seems completely natural. The pair has good chemistry – their scenes are a joy to watch.

My Afternoons with Marguerite has an overriding feeling of being a small film. It is set in a picturesque village, and the script never too dramatic or sentimental. Within this arc of the small film, Becker’s movie excels. It entertains just as it should. However, My Afternoons with Marguerite lacks the impact to compete with weighty dramas or comedies. The film will leave viewers with a positive feeling, but is unlikely leave them feeling moved.