One does not usually associate Catherine Deneuve with satire. The illustrious siren of French cinema is more often than not known for her salacious roles in films like Belle de Jour, Zig-Zag, and Luis Bunuel's La Femme aux Bottes Rouges. But perhaps with age comes greater concern with the statement a film makes rather than how one's physical appearance will come across in it. Written and directed by François Ozon, the youthful Frenchman who also brought you Swimming Pool and 8 Women, Potiche is set in the year 1977 at the height of communist tensions in France. As you can imagine, this setting is rife for Ozon's parody.
Opening on Suzanne Pujol running through the woods in a color coordinated running suit (what could establish her trophy wife status more accurately?), she stops in a clearing to write an unbelievably maudlin poem about a squirrel and then scampers back to her stately manor where Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini), her surly husband, awaits her. Already miffed by the fact that Suzanne has given the maid more time off, Robert tells her it isn't her place to make breakfast. Suzanne then asks, "If my place isn't in the kitchen or at Badaboum [a strip club her husband frequents], where is it?" This is the query that presents the entire thesis of the movie: Where does a woman belong? And it is a query that is still as relevant in 2011 as it was in 1977.
As tensions amid workers at Robert's umbrella factory mount, they take Robert hostage, refusing to release him until their nominal demands are met. Desperate to ensure her husband's freedom, Suzanne turns to her old flame Maurice Baubin (Gerard Depardieu), the current mayor, for assistance.
Maurice and Suzanne's reunion reignites old passions, especially after Robert suffers a breakdown and goes on a cruise to Greece, leaving Suzanne to take over in his stead. Maurice starts to think that Suzanne is genuinely in love with him, but, when Robert returns from his forced bout of R&R, the details of Suzanne's less than unblemished past begin to surface, revealing that she is not exactly as pure or fond of marital fidelity as everyone had previously thought. As a matter of fact, her son is not even Robert's--that's how much of a trick she is. But, trick or not, this trophy wife knows how to adequately run an umbrella factory.
Ozon's inspiration for Potiche stemmed from the play that the story is based on, written by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, and originally slated the narrative to be more of a commentary on the recent political career of Nicolas Sarkozy. Ozon chose to write the story in the backdrop of the late 1970s because of how incredibly divided France was politically at that time, both classwise and ideologywise, making it easier to create as many over the top scenes and lines of dialogue as possible.
The culmination of the film is intentionally hokey, following the rise of Suzanne's hastily patched together political campaign in the wake of being ousted out of her 55% share of the umbrella factory by her own daughter. Ozon, who has turned to Deneuve in the past to carry a film, shrewdly chose the screen goddess to enhance the incongruousness of Madame Pujol as the answer to France's governmental woes.