But whatever you do, don’t take a flutter on whether the next film by prolific French director François Ozon will be any good. To say that he’s had an erratic (if consistently intriguing) career is something of an understatement. His reference points range from Luis Buñuel (1998’s ‘Sitcom’) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (2000’s ‘Water Drops on Burning Rocks’) to Jacques Demy (2002’s ‘8 Women’) and Nicolas Roeg (2003’s ‘Swimming Pool’). Also, the quality of his films ranges from the highly accomplished and distinctive (2000’s ‘Under the Sand’) to the frankly baffling (2008’s ‘Ricky’).
So where does his new film figure on that broad canvas? Well, the peaches-and-cream colour scheme, flamboyant garments and near-regal presence of the Grand Dame of Grand Dames, Catherine Deneuve (in one of her most enjoyable and self-deprecating performances to date), definitely brings Demy to mind. The fact that the story takes place in a family-run umbrella factory (a nod to ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’) seals the deal. And in the all-important quality stakes, this has ‘hit’ written all over it in rainbow-hued psychedelic bubble-writing.
Adapted from a boulevard comedy by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, the film casts a wry eye over the outrageous sexual and political attitudes of the late 1970s and dares to ask whether anything has really changed. Fabrice Luchini is hilarious as Robert Pujol, the diminutive wrecking ball of right-wing fury who runs his umbrella factory with an iron fist. That is until his surly workforce downs tools and goes on strike and his enemy, pinko local mayor Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu), is brought in to broker a deal. Under pressure, Robert’s fragile ticker gives up and, as he rests up abroad, his Tinkerbell-like trophy wife Suzanne (Deneuve) must take the reins. She injects the ailing business with her own enlightened practices, much to his chagrin.
Simultaneously mocking and revering the look and content of the archetypal ’70s sitcom, ‘Potiche’ succeeds largely due to the fact that all the performers understand the ‘wink-wink’ nature of the material. Ozon evokes the spirit of the era through kitsch, split-screen editing and by filling the soundtrack with old-school Euro chanteurs like Sylvie Vartan and Johnny Hallyday, and even tossing in a bit of Boney M.
It’s as light and soft as a pink satin pillow, and a little overstretched, but it’s also packed with bawdy zingers and pointed political barbs. It even ends on a hypothetical for all the gamblers out there: if prompted, could Deneuve take high office in France? Put me down for a tenner!