This delightful French farce of feminist self-discovery is the funniest movie in over a year, and another showcase for Catherine Deneuve (as if she needs one). DeNeuve plays a 1977 potiche, French for “trophy housewife”, married to a guy who is a male chauvinist pig both by choice and cluelessness. He is also the meanest industrialist in France – Ebenezer Scrooge would be a softie next to this guy – and the workers in his factories are about to explode. He becomes incapacitated, and she must run the factory.
Now, this is a familiar story line for gender comedy – why is it so damn funny? It starts with the screenplay, which is smart and quick like the classic screwball comedy that American filmmakers don’t make anymore. And the cast is filled with proven actors who play each comic situation with complete earnestness, no matter how absurd.
Director Francois Ozon, best known in the US for Swimming Pool and 8 Women, adapted the screenplay from a play and has a blast skewering late-70s gender roles and both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Gerard Depardieu plays the Communist mayor, who is both the husband’s nemesis and the wife’s former fling. Two of the very best French comic players, Fabrice Luchini and Karen Viard, shine in co-starring roles as the husband and his secretary.