This 2010 French film starring Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier; begins with a cheesy 1970s jingle as Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) jogs in the morning light by beautiful lakeside scenery with her hair in curlers and covered with a net. Suzanne is the spoiled and self defacing housewife of industrialist, Robert Pujol who owns an umbrella factory he received through her dowry. The movie is first set on Suzanne's birthday which is like any other day for her as she goes for her morning jog in her bright red 70s running suit, blows kisses to doves, writes poems about squirrels and nags her husband to take his medicinal drops.
They have breakfast together and Robert, instead of remembering her birthday, reminds his wife her place is not in the kitchen, as she has given the servants the week off. Suzanne wonders out loud to him where her place is. Robert tells her they both must not forget she is Mrs. Pujol, as if she has no thoughts for herself and her thoughts are the same as his. And she says she tells herself everyday, "Je suis Madame Pujol, Je suis Madame Pujol" - yet she doesn't know what her place within that role is.
After Robert leaves for work but not before complaining about his workers, Suzanne realizes he forgot his drops and she calls the Pujol- Michonneu factory to have her husband's office wife, Nadege who is the company's top secretary, make sure he takes them. Their brief talk is hilariously awkward. Nadege is upset to find via Suzanne that Robert has been to Badaboum with a so called German buyer and she tells him to get it from his whores at the club. He whines that the place is closed on Thursdays.
Joelle, the Pujol's grown daughter, comes to visit Suzanne who is making a bed and fluffing pillows. In honor of Suzanne's birthday Joelle picks a rose from her parents' garden and gives it to her mother. Joelle shares news with Suzanne, who is shocked and saddened to hear Joelle might be divorcing; as her husband, Jean-Charles is always traveling, is not spending time with their boys, and Joelle is afraid he is having affairs.
Suzanne encourages her daughter to stay with her husband as sparks may fly again, Joelle's response is, or not, as she cruelly points out Suzanne and Robert sleep in separate bedrooms. Suzanne says sex is not everything and Joelle says, at her age perhaps!
Joelle tells her mother, she does not want to be like her; an overly accepting potiche (pretty vase on a shelf). Joelle continues that she thinks her mother is a doormat and women don't have to put up with men's whims in such a manner anymore, it is the late 1970s after all.
Robert arrives home to take his drops as he was too busy at Badaboum the night before to take them. His daughter reminds him of his wife's birthday and he is surprised, says he is busy and tells Suzanne to buy whatever she likes. She meekly thanks him. After Joelle leaves, Robert takes his drops but spits them up when his wife says their son, Laurent, is considering marrying Floriane Marquiset. Robert shouts that Floriane is no better than a prostitute, and Suzanne calmly replies that he is being a snob, he doesn't even know Floriane, that her father owns a patisserie and Floriane is accomplished and highly proficient at the piano.
Robert does not care about any of this and says Suzanne has no right to an opinion. That she is a spoiled little woman who should be happy with kitchen appliances. Then the phone rings and it is someone to inform Robert all of his workers have gone on strike. He leaves after pondering out loud the cost of the strike to himself and an announcement that he will show all the workers his fists. Suzanne contemplates the strike and then writes a poem about a rose.
Suzanne's relationship with Laurent is much more relaxed. She encourages him to study art as he doesn't like political science. He is gentle and conversational. She asks him to tell her about Floriane and then mentions while peeling a carrot how it is too bad Mrs. Marquiset died by electrocution from a hairdryer.
Later that evening the family is gathered together, Joelle with her two boys, Suzanne and Laurent, as the adults smoke, eat well coiffed appetizers and drink bubbly alcohol. Robert is not there as Suzanne comments that her husband's whereabouts have become more and more mysterious.
The doorbell rings and everyone assumes it is Robert, "J'arrive Papa, J'arrive," says Joelle as she dashes to the door with a cigarette held between her manicured fingers. "Nadege, what are you here for?" Nadege tells her it is urgent and Joelle gestures to an absolutely gorgeous and cultured looking family room. Nadege tells them that yes, it involves Robert and that he has been taken hostage by the workers.
Laurent leaves to settle the dispute in a humane manner, but comes back disheveled and with torn clothes as his father attacked him along with giving his son some words of choice. The family is unsure of what to do next, but Suzanne decides to go to the city's mayor, who happens to be her old lover and ask him to intervene in order to quell the worker's rage so her husband may be released. Maurice Babin, otherwise known as Monsieur Deputy Mayor is a man of the people and is in complete contrast to the Pujol's and their lifestyle. Suzanne is also the one who blew him off after their affair and she was married to Robert at the time, but she plays her cards right, Maurice forgives all of this and agrees to intervene.
The next morning Robert is at home in bed, with a doctor giving him orders to come to the hospital for tests as he is run down from daily work. Nadege is also still there having breakfast with Joelle and Laurent. She suggests she make a bullion for Robert and Joelle just looks stunned as Laurent politely and awkwardly says, pourquoi pas?; then Nadege dashes about to make her healing broth as if she has been waiting to do so her whole life.
Suzanne also, at her husband's request takes over the factory. Robert is too ill and high strung to continue with the work, especially considering the dour climate of the working landscape. She does an excellent job and the employees really like her. Both her son and daughter also serve at the factory under their mother's leadership and it becomes a successful family operation. Though, when Robert comes back from a refreshing cruise in better color and overall health, he wants to take the factory back from Suzanne. He lets her know this at the Pujol-Michonneau home office, after he gives her a lovely gold bracelet in the presence of Nadege. He gives the secretary a present too, of Turkish candies that can be bought at any given international airport. The same as giving one's lover the gift of a wrapped Toblerone in front of one's spouse.
Suzanne puts up a fight for control over the factory. She tells her husband he can now be like a lion on a plain, doing nothing all day, but golf and fish. Suzanne does not win her battle for the factory, due to internal family politics, but she does even better for herself in the end, as all the politics Suzanne has up her sleeve come into full force.
With Potiche the main perspective of satire is based on how unpure yet sociable humanity really is. Perhaps it is best not to generalize but it seems that in American films, affairs are heartbreaking and treated as scandalous. In French cinema, the affair itself, is not of consideration as much as how far the film may go in originality to mock such a cliche. It is odd that Joelle, should resemble Maurice Babin in looks. And as the story progresses it becomes increasingly apparent that Suzanne is not so meek and naive as she would seem but is simply a more mature version of Robert. The two understand each other in a way no one else could ever know either of them. They remain together based on this bond alone it seems.
By Sarah C. Bahl
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