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Time Out New York Project: Issue #805, March 24-30, 2011
Dir. François Ozon. 2010. R. 103mins. In French, with subtitles. Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini.
She’s a prize, that’s for sure. We meet 1970s French homemaker Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) — the potiche, or “trophy wife,” of the title — during her morning jog through a misty forest. Her tracksuit is a blazing shade of Technicolor red, and everything she does is just so darn cute. After spotting a pair of humping animals, she raises hand to mouth in the most endearing expression of mon Dieu! affrontery you’re ever likely to see. Of course, there’s more to the character than sight-gag facial expressions: She’s also a devoted spouse to a cheating husband (Luchini) who owns a local factory that’s on the verge of a strike. When the situation turns volatile, she steps in to run things and quickly comes to like her newfound sense of freedom.
Writer-director François Ozon, adapting a popular comic play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, creates an archly stylized world through the use of split screens, saturated colors and in-on-the-joke performances and situations. The allusions pile up fast and furious (the factory Suzanne takes over specializes in umbrellas — though not of Cherbourg), but Ozon is clearly attempting to wrangle it all into a larger statement about the past plights and continuing struggles of the fairer sex. Deneuve fits comfortably into this satirically profeminist milieu, and it’s often a gas to see her interact with her portly politico ex-lover (Depardieu) — they do a charmingly amateurish dance in a disco — or her hilariously closeted son (Jérémie Renier, rocking the package-accentuating denim). Yet the laughs are purely surface; the film’s women’s-lib pretensions seem grafted on as if to lend significance to a story that would benefit from a lighter, less cerebral touch. Still, it’s hard to resist La Deneuve’s charms, especially during the film’s climax, when she sings about “how beautiful life is.” If this grande dame of cinema says it, it must be true.—Keith Uhlich
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