I went to see Potiche last weekend. I immediately felt for the subtitler, whose troubles started right at the title, because in this particular sense, the word potiche, as far as I know, has no equivalent in English.
A potiche is a decorative vase, originally from China or Japan, but in its familiar sense, it refers to a person, man or woman, whose function is purely decorative, who has no power at all. So how would you say it in English? The poster says trophy wife, which isn’t exactly right, as the main characteristic of a trophy wife is to enhance the prestige of a man by her beauty, and most often her youth. Ironically, there is no direct equivalent in French for “trophy wife”: femme trophée is out there, but it is too close to the English to not be a borrowing, and I don’t think it is in common use. As an aside, I think this tension is revealed in the fact that “trophy housewife” is used in the subtitles instead of “trophy wife”. This is probably the subtitler’s attempt to get closer to the truth of the character, who is a neglected homemaker, and on the poster, this expression sits rather uncomfortably, in my opinion, next to a photo of an older woman in a tracksuit.
To come back to my main point, “trophy house/wife” isn’t such a bad solution, as it is a similar concept of a woman with no real power. It does add an idea of prestige, which almost contradicts the concept of a potiche, but it does contain the idea of powerlessness. I particularly enjoyed the translation of the following line, said by the husband as he witnesses his wife win the local elections on the television:
C’est peut-être une potiche, mais c’est pas une cruche.
(potiche = decorative vase = powerless and cruche = jug = idiot)
She might be a trophy, but she’s not on the shelf.
Not bad, I think you’ll agree.