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A decade ago, Francois Ozon had an arthouse hit with 8 Women, a subversive and very funny adaptation of a play originally produced as an Agatha Christie-esque melodrama. He is apparently up to something similar with Potiche, adapted from a popular French play of the late 1970s. But it’s from a less universal genre, and I suspect that many American viewers will share my inability to figure out just what Ozon is trying to do here.

Catherine Deneuve stars as Suzanne Pujol, wife of a factory owner (Fabrice Luchini). He’s the kind of industrialist who takes pride in how lousy he treats his workers, which in 1977 (the year the tale is set) was a sore point. When he is kidnapped by strikers, Suzanne appeals to the town’s mayor, Babin (Gerard Depardieu) to intercede. As a communist, Babin is no friend of Pujol. He agrees because he used to be in love with Suzanne. But when Pujol’s hotheadedness sidelines him again, Suzanne ends up running the factory in his stead—and doing a much better job if it.

The original Potiche appears to have been a feel-good comedy from an era when workers rights was a hot-button topic in France. That Ozon intends to subvert his source material is plain in the opening, when Suzanne’s enjoyment of a Disney-ish moment in the woods includes a pair of rabbits behaving in a way that would have given Walt a coronary. (There’s a big laugh a few minutes later when the lyrics of a sentimental song Suzanne is listening to take an unexpected turn.) But there are too few moments like these, at least for non-French viewers, and the bulk of the story feels oddly dated to no obvious point. Sure, it’s fun to see Deneuve and Depardieu dancing at a disco—it’s fun to watch these veteran co-stars do anything. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy Potiche, but I would love for someone to explain it to me.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Potiche

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