Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie 12/50 Potiche

Potiche            fiftyfiftyme category: Other

When I started the fiftyfiftyme challenge I decided not to count any English-language movies I watched toward my total. This was mostly to inspire me to cut into my backlog of unwatched Indian movies, but gave me a pass for the relaxing fun of watching light French comedy. Potiche is a good example of the genre.

Over the last 5 or 6 years, I've come to think that the French have mastered the art of, and cornered the market for, light comedy. It's a ghastly, hideous cliché but there really is a certain je ne sais quoi about many French comedies that make them very entertaining and distinctively different from Anglo fare.

This film, the story of a trophy wife (the "Potiche" of the title) who discovers a talent for running a business when her husband is incapacitated, is a good example of the difference. The most striking difference is the age of the leads. This is a film about middle-aged people primarily, and that's not common in Anglo films. Catherine Deneuve was very good in the lead role, and I enjoyed both Fabrice Luchini (who I'd previously liked in Molière and La fille de Monaco) as her thoroughly caddish, chauvinist husband and Gerard Depardieu as her once-and-would-be-future paramour.  Neither Depardieu (now) nor Luchini would be considered for leading man roles in Anglo films, I'm sure. Especially would the idea of them being romantic leads be incomprehensible.

That is another part of the difference - the attitude toward sex. French matter-of-factness about sexual behaviour means that it can be used as a part of the comic element of a story without heavy-handed crudeness or juvenile snickering, which afflict many Anglo (and most Indian) films that try it. Here it's a big part of the plot, but handled with a competent lightness of touch that I doubt would be possible in the Puritanical US cinema tradition (which revels in violence but recoils from sex), and is definitely not possible in mainstream Indian cinema, which becomes puerile whenever it tries ( cf Desi Boyz).

Films like Potiche  are bit like a pavlova. A basic meringue-style dessert may seem easy to make, but everything has to be just right for it to be a melt-in-the-mouth confection. Afterward, there will be no life-changing impact, just the memory of a pleasant sweet interlude. All the ingredients in Potiche come together to deliver just that, a sweet little diversion, one that features real people, even old ones!

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