French director Francois Ozon’s says he was inspired to go ahead with his latest film, a battle-of-the-sexes comedy, after the presidential election pitting Nicolas Sarkozy against Segolene Royale.
“I realized there was a new era of machoism,” the director told reporters before the premiere of “Potiche” Saturday night at the Venice Film Festival, where it is in competition for the Golden Lion award.
Ozon said he had been incubating the idea for a film based on a French theater play since before shooting 2002’s “8 Women,” but waited to move on the project until he could “say something about French women today.”
“In French, a potiche is a vase or decorative object of little value and no real practical use that you put on a shelf or the mantle,” according to media notes on the film. Colloquially, it is a derogatory term for a showcase wife, whose job it is to look after the household and look pretty.
The movie stars Catherine Deneuve as the well-to-do wife of an umbrella factory manager and Gerard Depardieu as a communist-oriented local politician.
The movie strikes a comic tone from the start, with opening credits that evoke the opening sequence of the 1969-74 American sit-com “Love American Style.” Deneuve’s Suzanne is out jogging in a red track suit with triple white stripes down the side, her bouffant tucked into a hairnet. As she performs calisthenics, small woodland creatures catch her eye and appear to greet her: She is clearly a woman without a care in the world.
That starts to change when her husband, a tyrannical manager, is taken hostage by workers demanding new bathrooms in one of the factories. Suzanne must take over the business during her husband’s three-month cruise ship convalescence from the drama, and trouble begins when he returns and wants to take back over. Suzanne, who has turned things around, is having none of it.
Deneuve said she has never herself been a showcase wife.
“But I am sure there have been some moments I had the impression I was used as the way I was or the way I looked more than for who I was … never really a potiche,” she said.
“Potiche” is one of 22 films, plus a still-to-be-announced surprise film, in competition for the Golden Lion, to be awarded Sept. 11.