Deux Par Ozon (Ricky, Potiche)

27 05 2017

Ever since his “Young & Beautiful” beguiled me at Cannes in 2013, I’ve been a fan of Francois Ozon’s peculiar blend of French cinema. His blend of camp and noir traditions provides for unconventionally satisfying watches in “Swimming Pool” and “In the House” – and, for something totally different, he made a stunningly classical film recently with “Frantz.” That’s not to say I find him perfect, though.

Potiche” (B-) casts icon of French cinema Catherine Deneuve in a role fitting of her status. As Suzanne Pujol, matriarch of a business-owning family, she often keeps her dysfunctional family functioning while receiving little credit. She’s the titular trophy wife (the literal English translation of “potiche”) in a late ’70s era when such was a high honor to which a woman aspired.

But out of necessity, she must step in to manage her husband Robert’s umbrella factory while he falls ill – and during a classic French workers’ strike, no less. Her feminine wiles turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for the factory, so much so that her temporary custodianship begins calcifying into a more permanent management. Her newfound purpose divides her families and galvanizes French society, then still in shock over a woman exerting such authority in the business world so openly and unabashedly.

“Potiche” is a mostly enjoyable romp, although it eventually begins to drag as Ozon hits the same notes on his satirical social commentary again and again. We get the point pretty early on about female empowerment in a patriarchal society, and it’s not exactly a novel idea. Still, the fun of Deneuve letting loose in classic Ozon style makes the film worth a watch.

Now, I have seen Ozon make a movie about a teenage girl who chooses to be a prostitute, a widower who changes gender identity, and two tales about an obfuscated boundary between fiction and reality. These have been exciting takes indeed, though neither promise the sheer spectacle of “Ricky” (D / ). The film quite literally features a baby that sprouts wings (that resemble the kinds you’d see on a Butterball turkey at the supermarket).

It’s told with no urgency, no energy and no vitality – an especially shocking thing to say regarding Ozon, whose films are usually zany expressions of his twisted desires. Every moment rings false and every scene feels phoned in. To call it melodrama implies that there might be a moment resembling dramatic tension. There isn’t.

In fact, the cherubic titular character isn’t even the focus, he’s just the means for the mother to realize herself – but Ozon doesn’t develop her enough for us to give a damn. It’s just a bizarre spectacle and a head-scratcher of the worst variety.

REVIEW: Valley of Love

14 06 2016

Valley of LoveTrying to find an angle from which to critique Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love” proves quite frustrating. It’s neither particularly good nor egregiously bad. It features well-calibrated but not quite stunning performances from its two leads, Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu. Cinematography, editing and directorial choices are present, interesting but nothing to add much flavor to the bland proceedings.

The film finds its characters, exes Isabelle and Gerard, as they convene in Death Valley following the instructions of their estranged son’s suicide note. His cryptic message indicates that he will, somehow, resurface. The setup sounds interesting, but Nicloux never really does much to take it beyond a “Waiting for Godot”-lite exercise of futility for the former lovers. The movie is content to let them mill about in their present misery, making lateral movements rather than directional ones.

Without giving away the ending itself, “Valley of Love” concludes with a back-and-forth of close-ups between Isabelle and Gerard. I can imagine a version of this film where such faces could be laden with such intense meaning, loaded with such passion or informed by the iconography of these two stars. Instead, the end just plays like the kind of thing made by someone who watched one too many cinephile video essays. With so many intriguing pieces at hand, the final arrangement fails to impress. C+ / 2stars