Day two of the Tokyo International Film Festival marked the second visit to Japan this year by Catherine Deneuve, who was here in February to promote Hidden Diary. Director François Ozon was also slated to attend the festival, but didn’t show due to scheduling conflicts. Needless to say, Deneuve was great on her own at the all-too-short Q&A before the screening. As is often the case here, she was paired off on stage with a more or less random Japanese celebrity who was announced as the “Japanese Catherine Deneuve,” and the French actress obviously had no idea who she was.
The film she was here to introduce is Potiche, starring Deneuve, who just turned 67, and another icon of French film, Gérard Depardieu. The two have costarred in six films before, dating back to 1980, which might make one suspect that the film was designed as a last hurrah for the two stars, which is not at all the case. Although the script is based on a stage play, it seems to have been tailor made for Deneuve at this point in her career. She plays a rich housewife who is happy with her hobbies of jogging and writing quaint little poems when her high-strung husband (Fabrice Luchini) faces off against workers at the umbrella factory where he is the manager and has a heart attack that puts him out of commission for three months. When the trophy wife (“potiche” in French) steps in to take his place, she finds that she has an innate skill for business and labor negotiations and is advised by Depardieu, an old flame who is now a communist party politician. When her husband returns to take over the rains, the factory has been completely transformed and his wife refuses to leave her post, reminding him that the shares she inherited from her father actually give her controlling interest. He double crosses his own wife to get her ousted and she attempts to go over his head by running for public office. Deneuve is wonderful in the role and really carries the film. Depardieu fits his role as a man who holds to his principles even when his heart tells him otherwise, although the actor has put on a good deal of weight and seems labored just moving through his scenes.
Ozon, who previously directed Deneuve in 8 Women, loves to work in periods, and sets the film in 1977, which allows him to play with ideas of the women’s liberation movement and labor strikes, not to mention so nostalgic ‘70s fashion and interior design.