Potiche, which got its TIFF premiere last night at Roy Thomson Hall, marks the second time that legendary French actor Catherine Deneuve has paired up with director François Ozon. They previously worked together on Huit Femmes, a musical set in a ’50s country manor that became a critical and commercial hit in Europe. This time, he’s trading in the countryside for an umbrella factory in a small northern French town in the late ’70s.
“As a movie-goer, I love comedies, and doing comedies is very difficult to succeed in,” said Deneuve. “Every time I see old comedies, I’m thrilled by the energy and the story of the actors, and I think it’s very cheerful and so much fun. Doing comedies is hard because you have to keep up with a rhythm, but I love doing them.”
In Potiche, Deneuve plays Suzanne Pujol, a trophy wife whose husband suddenly has a heart attack, leaving her to pick up the pieces of an umbrella company that he had been running into the ground. Gérard Depardieu (who, sadly, could not make it to TIFF) also stars as the town’s mayor and Pujol’s ally in a quest to gain the respect of the factory workers.
Ozon spoke about some initial hiccups on the set:
“It wasn’t such a pleasure on the first day of shooting. Gerard had a few drinks beforehand, and the choreography wasn’t working. He was very unhappy and left the set, convinced the scene was a failure. It was only in the editing room when he saw the sense of tenderness and chemistry between them.”
“He can be pretty vulgar, but in a poetic way. It’s a bit like a child. Whatever he does, it’s pretty harmless,” adds co-star Judith Godreche. “He doesn’t say things with the intention of doing harm. And when he jokes, he’s really funny. Sometimes I can’t work because I can’t stop laughing, so I was very happy to work with him.”
Though Deneuve’s character was successful in being a leader and improving the working conditions of her staff, she says that she has no intentions of making it a full-time job.
“I know that politicians have to be good actors sometimes, but I don’t think actors would make good politicians.”
We’re not ones to point out the foibles of one of cinema’s great lionesses, but maybe we could introduce Deneuve to Arnold Schwarzenegger? After all, it’s a bit late to introduce her to Ronald Reagan.