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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Potiche

(Three Stars)
France, Francois Ozon, 2010

A few words about Potiche: Catherine Deneuve is still beautiful at 67. Gerard Depardieu, still tremendous at 62, has grown as immense as Brando (in girth as well as talent.) Both still hold the screen casually and with real brilliance, though Depardieu, if he keeps this up, may soon overtax the capacities of even an IMAX screen.

That’s the good and mixed news about director and co-writer Francois Ozon’s Potiche, in which Deneuve and Depardieu play ex-lovers who have aged into later-life roles: Deneuve as Mme. Pujol, the deeply intelligent but criminally wasted “potiche” (or trophy wife) of a wealthy factory owner, and Depardieu as M. Babin, the same city‘s Communist mayor, parliamentary representative and pro-labor firebrand.

 Now, during a contentious strike, they find themselves on opposite political sides, and then similar ones (when she takes over the factory, in her husband‘s illness), and then opposed again. Meanwhile, the irascible factory owner Pujol, behaves very badly. He is played, very well, by a third longtime French cinema icon, Fabrice Luchini, 60 (The Girl from Monaco, Uranus).

The bad news, I suppose is that the play Ozon is adapting — by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy — seems to me not very good (at least if Ozon‘s adaptation is faithful): a little arch, smug and artificial, contrived too obviously, embellished too predictably, wrapped up too neatly. Cute all the same, it’s a feminist parable that could use a bit less Marx and Chomsky and a bit more Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.

In the end though, I don’t think it matters. Movies can be works of art. (This one isn’t.) But they can also be, in a way, fantasy bistros where we meet and re-meet people we love to watch. Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool), one of France‘s most prolific auteurs, loves fine actors, and he seems to do his best to make them comfortable and happy and inspired — in this case not just the formidable trio above, but Karin Viard as Pujol’s feisty mistress, Judith Godreche and Jeremie Renier as his discontent children, Sergi Lopez as a Spanish routier, and many others.

Another word about Ozon: A very good director, yes. But, if another movie feminist fable this week (Hanna) struck me as somewhat correctly “politically incorrect,” this one strikes me as somewhat incorrectly “correct.” In any case, the resolution, more political than romantic, was only a mixed pleasure, whether it was correct or incorrect, or neither.

A word about Luchini: He can do self-absorbed, pompous egotists as well now as when I first saw him in 1970 in Eric Rohmer‘s Claire‘s Knee. Better, maybe. And here, of course, he’s playing that sacred cow of conservatives, a “job creator.” Merde!

 A word about Depardieu. He should really find a hole in his legendarily busy schedule and go on a diet. By now he is out-Raimuing Raimu, out-Laughtoning Laughton, out- Wellesing Welles. I’m not quibbling about his looks, and I certainly prefer a Raimu or a Laughton or a Welles — or a Depardieu — to the skinny dullards and phonies often foisted on us by the movies. But, to be blunt, we want Depardieu to still be around years from now, to keep filling his busy schedule — and with films, instead of banquets.

 Now: Deneuve. A confession. For three years, at college, I had five celebrity posters on my walls, along with my prints of Pieter Breugel’s “The Harvesters,” El Greco‘s “View of Toledo” and Van Gogh‘s “Starry Night.” The posters were of four of my heroes: Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Ray Charles, and Steve McQueen. And one great crush: Catherine Deneuve.

 If you disagree with my review of Potiche, you should remember that you’re talking about a woman I love.

(In French, with English subtitles.)
(Opens Friday, April 15, Chicago Landmark Theatre)

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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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~ David Simon