“He is like a child, he is provocative, he can shout, but I forgive him everything because he is a genius. Besides, on this shoot, he was very happy, again like a child, because he was working with Catherine (Deneuve) and he adores her.”
Ozon (celebrated for Swimming Pool, 8 Women) has brought together arguably his country’s two most iconic screen figures for this typically French-Belgian comedy of romance, deception and female empowerment. Deneuve plays Suzanne, the ‘potiche’ of the title, translated most easily as ‘trophy wife’.
She is forced to take over the running of her husband’s factory when he is laid low, and is reunited with her former love Maurice, played by Depardieu.
So was it intimidating for a young director to have to guide his own idols through their scenes?
“Well, on the one hand, it was easy because, obviously, they are both so talented," he explains. "And the story is of two people who share a romantic history (although Deneuve’s character is, of course, married to someone else – so European). So I could use the audience’s familiarity with them both for this – their faces are full of common history, it’s all there on the screen.”
The challenge, however, was to make Deneuve, a figure of such esteem in France that there is no real equivalent in either the UK or America, somebody believable as a cuckolded, downtrodden wife.
“From the start, I had to establish that her independence was something she had lost," says Ozon. "So I put her in a shell suit jogging, not the sort of image we would ever normally think of her.”
But, by the end, her true glamour is all too evident in a musical finale where Deneuve gets to belt out a number. This may be a surprise for many viewers, but is apparently a long-held tradition in French cinema, and one Deneuve was determined to follow.
“That was all Catherine,” explains Ozon. “From day one of the production, she asked me, ‘Where is my song?’ Who was I to refuse Catherine Deneuve?”
Potiche is on DVD release from Monday 10th October. You can watch the trailer below...