At the luxurious Newmark Theater waiting to see “Potiche,” I was seated by a man who had been going to the Portland International Film Festival for 15 years. When his date left for a moment, he hurriedly called another woman to arrange a Sunday meeting to see any PIFF film she wanted. When the call was over I caustically queried, “So what’s with asking another woman out while you’re here with someone else?”
“It fits in with the film we’re going to see, don’t you think?” he replied back with a cat grin.
When his date came back he introduced her as his wife. They had a little chat and she leaned across him and took my arm saying, “Thanks for sticking up for me.”
“Potiche,” a French film starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu, is a farcical rendition of this true interchange.
Set in 1977, “Potiche” is reminiscent of a cross between the American feminist comedies, “Nine to Five” and “The First Wives Club.” Deneuve is a trophy (“potiche” in French) housewife of a wealthy CEO, Fabrice Luchine, who runs her father’s umbrella manufacturing company. He is an autocratic boss oppositional to the welfare of his workers. While he is busy cavorting with his secretary and ladies of the night at Badaboum, the workers go on strike.
When the profligate husband has a heart attack on Deneuve’s birthday, which he does not find significant enough to recognize, and requires convalescence, she is given management of the company. She hires her children, gives in to many of the workers’ demands and the company thrives.
An irony is that the more Denueve’s character deviates from the expectations of her husband and prior lover, Gérard Depardieu, the more they became irresistibly attracted to her. As her sense of self-confidence develops and she becomes successful, their awe, respect and downright sexual infatuation cannot be contained. As a matter of fact, all of France ends up mesmerized.
The 34th Annual Portland International Film Festival’s gala opening night on Feb. 10, opened with “Potiche” and closed with a gala party at Nel Centro. Crowds spilled out into the damp dark Portland streets in celebration of 16 more days of outstanding film viewing.
At Nel Centro, hip location of the PIFF opening night party, I interviewed revelers about their reactions to “Potiche.”
All of the women, except the sultry intellectual from Argentina, gave it a 5 (5 = high). All of the men, except the two engagingly handsome Europeans, gave it a 3 or 4.
The San Francisco hippies (back from the day) rated this film a 5 and a 4, respectively. The sparkly wife, now a zoo scientist, loved “Potiche” because she saw the feminist movement as one portrayed not against men or for women but a message championing all people. Her long-haired husband, a friendly pragmatic biological scientist, gave it a 4. “It was okay, but the whole feminist theme is dated.”
Their companion, a Portlander of few words, gave the film a 3. While he was entertained he was not moved.
Two lovely ladies in their 60’s who have been coming to PIFF for almost 10 years because they love to see films that have political or social depth. For them, this film fit the bill — they both gave it a 5 because “it had a good message and was fun.”
On the opposite side of the room and spectrum were 2 skinny impoverished-looking guys in their early 20’s, one from Portland and the other from Ohio. They said they bought PIFF tickets to “get culturalized.” While they enjoyed this film, like the Portlander, neither were moved by it and gave it 3’s.
Then there was the 30-something Argentinean beauty, the only woman giving “Potiche” a 3. She said in her soft, deep-voiced accent, “It had light humor. It was entertaining, but not deep, not multi-dimensional.” She liked Deneuve’s outlook, always seeing the good in life, because she never played the victim. However, on the whole, Miss Argentina saw only mediocre acting a limited perspective.
On the contrary, her older friend, a woman originally from Texas, gave it at the very least a 5 because she could relate to that time era in the ’70s when women’s roles were in transition. She found the film simple and understandable –- and she appreciated that.
Getting braver, I approached two charismatic men who turned out to be from Italy and France. They were so happy to have spent a couple hours watching a film that was so reminiscent of home. Mr. Italy gave “Potiche” a 5 for its acting and feminist plot. He liked the expressed challenge about what a woman’s role should be. He complained that American movies generally conformed to a style that constantly reflects the status quo and are often didactic rather than encouraging the viewer to simply ponder the subject.
Mr. Paris gave it a 6! Over the top. He said every family in France is like that — they all have mistresses. He loved the light fun and vaudeville-like humor, saying that he laughed his way through the whole film. “American movies don’t let you think. This film was able to entertain on many levels.”
Closing in on midnight, the last interview was with the isolated guy dressed in Oregon’s standard survival hiking gear. Hunched over the bar, I learned that this handsome bearded unemployed Northwestern graduate, who walked to the film from his certified LEED Gold apartment building, was an unemployed lawyer.
Since Oregon has the 7th highest unemployment rate at 10.6, this 30 year old has been depressed. His solution was to buy the $300 Northwest Film Center’s Director’s special that gets him free admission to all Northwest Film Center films for one year plus 10 free tickets for guests. His brother is a filmmaker and they have done some collaborating. Films have been his interest all his life and are a great intellectual escape from life’s sordid realities.
“Hollywood is out of ideas. Hollywood mainstream doesn’t interest me. Those films are just like commercials. I look for films with roots in history, stories that haven’t yet been told. Films with perspective, a bit off-center.”
Survival Lawyer, now writing for hypervocal.com, gave ”Potiche” a 3.5. “There were some legitimate laughs. It was a good story.”
So that’s the word from Portland. We’re excited about all the films being shown at the festival, we like ones that make us think on many different levels, and “Potiche,” while a fun, light-hearted film everyone enjoyed, will be most appreciated by women.
Director: François Ozon
Writers: Pierre Barillet (play), Jean-Pierre Grédy (play)
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchine, Karin Viard Godrèche and Jérémie Renier
Release Date: Sept. 4 (Venice International Film Festival), Nov. 5 2010 (Italy), January 2011 (Palm Springs International Film Festival)
Runtime: 93 minutes
Web site: http://www.potichelefilm.fr/
PIFF Web site: http://festivals.nwfilm.org/piff34/
. . .
Follow Bev Questad on Twitter at http://twitter.com/questad.
And don’t forget to “Like” It’s Just Movies on Facebook at