If you were unlucky enough to miss Potiche at the cinema this year, then fear not, the DVD release of this wonderful comedy from Francois Ozon is coming soon!
Adapted from the stage version by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and set in the 1970s, Potiche oozes with uber-camp and hilariously hammed up performances, starring Catherine Deneuve playing Mrs Pujol as a trophy wife turned career woman. Behind the excess cleverly lies intricate power struggles and an indirect peek at the political structures and gender relations of modern day France. i-D online were super excited to talk to the director, Francois Ozon, about 1970s design, Nicolas Sarkozy and Benny Hill.
What made you want to visit the 1970s? Did you ever think about taking Fassbinder’s play and setting it in a modern context? Yes, when I first discovered the play, I thought that it was very old fashioned and that it didn’t have anything to do with the reality of today, but because of the last presidential election in France, we had for the first time, a woman standing against a man, Ségolène Royal against Nicolas Sarkozy. There was a lot of male chauvinism and misogynist lines from the politicians and I realised that things haven’t changed so much and that the French are still misogynistic, so I read the play again and I thought maybe I could do something with this. I thought if there is a distance of the 70s maybe it will be easier to have fun with the situation, because of course things have changed for women, but not that much in terms of many things. I wanted to make a comedy and to speak indirectly of the situation today and of the relationships between men and women in France. Also it was the fact that the 70s was the time of my childhood so there was a lot of nostalgia, and it was a lot of fun to recreate my childhood in the film.
The design of Potiche had so much attention to detail. Could you talk a bit about your relationship with your designers? Do you take an active interest in the details? Yes, I’m very involved in all the design of my films, and especially in this film because it is the 70s, and it’s a time that I remember. We tried to recreate the period, but to be totally free to use what we like, because, there are some things which are not very realistic but we wanted to be stylised. I had some obsessions, for example we were looking for a very long time for this carpet on the telephone, which was very in fashion at the time. In France it was very popular and it was really difficult to find it, as it is really old fashioned now. There were a lot of obsessions of mine from my memories of the 70s. For the costume, we really worked with Catherine to show the evolution of her character and at the end it’s not the same character. We had a lot of fun with Catherine because she was very involved and she is a big fan of fashion, she knows everything. She was a very good friend of Yves Saint Laurent and she always goes to see the shows of Jean Paul Gaultier and those kinds of people.
Your films are often about women, why do you have such a desire to make films about women? It’s strange because you never ask a director why do you want to make films about men. Strange because people are shocked and surprised that I do films about women, but women are one half of humanity, it’s not like it is something special. I do think it stems from my love of actresses. I love to work with actresses and sometimes, it’s easier in film to identify myself to a woman, because very often with the men, it’s all action movie heroes, but with women I think you have more of the feeling, of the thinking of the character, the emotions, the sensations, all these kind of things and this is what interests me in movies and I want to show that in my films.
The level of camp and excess in Potiche is brilliant and hilarious. At what point in the preparation did you decide to push the comic side? The fact that it was a play, the fact that I didn’t want to make a realistic movie like Ken Loach. I really wanted to have fun, to play with these elements, and I knew I could push some things and must not be afraid of extremes. In terms of mise-en-scene, I knew I could use some ways of thinking from the 70s, you know the zooms, those kinds of things that were very usual at the time, or the music, or to play with some reactions from the characters. I wanted to find again the spirit that I liked when I was a child. One British journalist spoke to me about Benny Hill. He was very popular in France as a child. I realised I had some inspiration in the way of showing the character of the husband, Mr. Pujol, of showing him as a misogynist, but then for the pleasure as a spectator, you have to see him very mean with women, but at the same time he’s funny and tender and I think this comes from my memories of Benny Hill.
Which other directors do you look up to? Fassbinder was very important to me as a young student, because when I discovered his films I realised that here was a director who could be influenced by different things, and was not afraid to accept these different influences. It helped me a lot to accept my personality as a director.
What’s next for you? I have just finished a new film with Fabrice Luchini, who plays the husband in Potiche, and his wife is Kristen Scott Thomas. It’s a film about the relationship between a teacher and his student and it’s really something completely different.
Potiche is released on DVD, October 10th 2011
Text: Joe Cohen