VENICE (Reuters) - French screen legends Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu team up again in "Potiche," a light-hearted drama set in the 1970s that examines the prejudices women faced then and still do today.
Deneuve, 66, plays the central character of Suzanne, the submissive housewife of umbrella factory owner Robert Pujol who represents the "potiche," or trophy wife of the title.
When the bullying, philandering Pujol is taken hostage by his disgruntled workers and falls seriously ill, Suzanne steps in to run the business and has instant success by negotiating with the workforce rather than confronting it.
A struggle for power is triggered at the factory in northern France when her husband recovers and returns to the family.
Deneuve, an Oscar-nominated actress who starred in movies including "Belle de Jour" and "Indochine," said she believed that women's place in society had improved over the last 30 years but that sexual equality was still some way off.
"I would like to think that a film like that can help women to have more recognition in our work, because there is still a very big difference between men and women, especially at work," she told reporters at the Venice film festival.
"With the same capacity a woman is not paid as a man, which is always the reflection of society," she added, speaking in English.
"Potiche" is one of 23 films in the main competition lineup in Venice, and has its official world premiere on Saturday.
Asked if she had ever been exploited the way her character is, Deneuve replied: "Like in the film I don't think so, but I'm sure there have been some moments where I had the impression that I was used (because of) the way I was and the way I looked more than who I was."
In "Potiche," directed by France's Francois Ozon, Suzanne enlists the help of Babin (Depardieu), a former lover whose affection for her is immediately reignited.
Babin wines and dines Suzanne, and at a night club the couple take to the dance floor in a scene reminiscent of "Saturday Night Fever."
Deneuve and Depardieu have appeared on screen together several times, including in Francois Truffaut's "The Last Metro" and Andre Techine's "Changing Times."
"He's not someone I see very often in life," Deneuve said of Depardieu, who was not at the press conference in Venice.
"I've been working with him for such a long time now, over 25 years I think at least, so when I meet him ... really the impression is I saw him yesterday. We are always very close. He's a very careful, very lovely partner to work with."
Also premiering in Venice on Saturday are "Silent Souls" from Russia and Italian comedy "La Passione."
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall