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With: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche, Jérémie Renier, Sergi Lopez, Évelyne Dandry, Bruno Lochet, Elodie Frégé, Gautier About, Jean-Baptiste Shelmerdine, Noam Charlier, Martin De Myttenaere, Yannick Schmitz
Written by: François Ozon, based on a play by Pierre Barillet, Jean-Pierre Grédy
Directed by: François Ozon
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 103
Date: 09/04/2010

Potiche (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Umbrella Policy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Last year a movie called Made in Dagenham told the story of a woman who helped lead the way for women's rights in a Ford factory. It was told with the usual amount of earnestness and moxie you would expect from a "based-on-a-true-story" movie, all seemingly calculated to bring some Oscar heat to star Sally Hawkins and to the rest of the movie. It failed, and the movie was a bore. Now the more playful, prickly director François Ozon takes on a similar, but fictitious story with Potiche (a.k.a. "Trophy Wife") and pulls it off with pizzazz.

Even better, it brings together the legendary French stars Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu for what looks like the seventh time; their past collaborations include Francois Truffaut's The Last Metro (1980) and André Téchiné's Changing Times (2004).

Deneuve plays the "trophy wife" of the title; she's the daughter of the founder of an umbrella factory, and when she married Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), he took over, bullying his way through the job, sleeping with his secretaries and causing morale to plummet. In 1977, the world's mood changes and workers begin striking. Pujol responds with his fists and his heart gives way; he winds up in the hospital. So wife Suzanne puts on her best dress and marches in to handle negotiations.

Not surprisingly, she's good at it; she uses her father's tactics of kindness and respect. Depardieu plays mayor Maurice Babin, a left-wing activist who understands the workers and tries to help. Things are complicated by the fact that Suzanne and Maurice once had a tryst years earlier, and though Maurice felt guilty for sleeping with someone out of his class structure, they have never forgotten one another. When they reconnect, more sparks fly, this time complicated by the presence of Suzanne's grown children: liberal son Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and conservative daughter Joëlle (Judith Godrèche).

Ozon juggles all this like a theatrical farce -- Robert's current mistress, secretary Nad�ge (Karin Viard) enters the fray to make it a round sextet -- with bold colors and bold hairstyles. It is, of course, based on a play, but Ozon keeps it from getting too big or too locked down. The colorful umbrellas will likely remind viewers of Deneuve's classic The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), but otherwise, the movie most vividly recalls his wonderful 2002 musical 8 Women, which also starred Denueve. Ozon is comfortable enough to let things get a little silly from time to time. When some protesters show up outside the family mansion and begin chanting that Pujol is an asshole, both Suzanne and Nad�ge momentarily join in, enjoying the rhyme.

Deneuve still commands the screen like the star she is, and she's sexy enough to turn heads. She and Depardieu have a wonderful chemistry together; the increasingly round Depardieu is like a teddy bear Romeo, pining openly for his slightly more composed co-star. They're a delight to watch, and it certainly doesn't matter that both stars are in their sixties.

Even as the story moves from social unrest to politics over the course of a year, the movie retains its zippy pace and bubbly attitude. Of course, we shouldn't forget Ozon's slightly vicious sense of humor, and he revels in the fact that not everyone here is going to come out happy in the end. But the best thing is that Potiche is far from earnest. If it has anything serious to say about women's rights or politics, those things are best left for the audience to pick out.

Music Box sent me an advance promo, with no main menu and only some coming attractions previews, so I can't speak to the extras or to the quality of the final release.

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