In 1926 Landes, Thérèse (Audrey Tautou) is an intelligent young woman married off to Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lalouche), the chauvinistic son of a local pine forest dynasty. Her avant garde ideas clash with the conventions of the community, and she yearns to break free of her compressed life. Her freedom comes tantalizingly close when she discovers that increasing Bernard's medicine dose makes him unwell.
Review by Louise Keller:
An exquisite portrait of a free spirit, stifled in a marriage of convenience, Thérèse D. plays like a beautiful melody whose main voice is the silent counterpoint that reflects the yearning of a woman quashed. Audrey Tautou's delicate features perfectly capture the two-pronged dilemma she faces as the torn Thérèse, while Gilles Lellouche, the Catholic landowner husband for whom family tradition and a neat, Bourgeois existence is paramount, makes a striking contrast, physically and fundamentally. Claude Miller's superbly realised film allows the nuance of early 20th century rural France, with constraints, codes and expectations to unravel elegantly in this haunting adaptation of François Mauriac's 1927 novel.
In a brief, joyful prelude, there is a telling moment when 15 year old Thérèse Larroque (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) confides in her best friend and neighbour Anne de la Trave (Matilda Marty-Giraut) that it is the ideas in her head that scare her more than the prospect of sleeping with Anne's brother Bernard, to whom she is betrothed. For Thérèse, her dreams of marriage are not of love, passion and ecstasy, but for her own salvation and where she aspires to find peace from the myriad of ideas that define her. In 1928, six years later, as Thérèse (Tautou) and Bernard (Lellouche) are walking in the pine forests that delineate the wealth of their families, she jokes she is marrying him for his pine trees.
A mechanical and dutiful existence follows the traditional wedding with white silk and satin. He talks about the weather and hunting, while she longs to talk about emotions. Sex is endured in the confines of the bedroom. They experience none of the passion that Anne (Anaïs Demoustier) and her secret Jewish lover Jean Azevedo (Stanley Weber) share in their brief, forbidden affair. It is Thérèse's recruitment by Bernard's tight-knit family to make sure the relationship ends, that enables the family to accept her. They have long resented the fact that she thinks and smokes far too much - as well as owning more land than them. The meeting between Thérèse and Jean (although she is heavily pregnant) offers our only glimmer of a sexual spark.
Unlike Mauriac's novel which begins with the conclusion of the court case in which Thérèse is accused of poisoning her husband with arsenic, the story plays out chronologically. Tautou conveys much with few words as she becomes an emotional prisoner, lost in her circumstances, manipulated for appearances. I was totally engrossed by this film, the mood it conveys and the lights that are extinguished in Thérèse's soulful eyes. The subtlety and power of the final meeting between Thérèse and Bernard is overtly moving by its understatement.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The claustrophobic mores of early 20th century Europe seem to ooze off the screen as Claude Miller applies his considerable cinematic skills to this adaptation. It's mostly a sombre, gloomy film with the dark interiors of a provincial French family mansion used to great moody effect by Miller's cinematographer, Gérard de Battista. He underlights the interiors - and even many exteriors - to keep us in the grip of gloom, but he also splashes light when required - notably on the responsive face of Audrey Tautou.
But it begins in much light, sunlight in fact, as the teenage Thérèse (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) frolics on bikes across sunlit fields with her very best friend, Anne (Matilda Marty-Giraut).
As young adults, Thérèse (Tautou) and Anne (Anaïs Demoustier) continue their friendship - at least until inevitably, grown up life invades their innocence. Thérèse is betrothed to the serious and traditional Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lalouche), heir to a pine forest - one that's adjacent to another one, owned by Thérèse's family, the Larroques.
The tedious life of a provincial bourgeois wife soon becomes unbearable, prompting Thérèse to tinker with her husband's medication. The film (and I suspect the novel) relies on the subtleties and nuances that surround this action, the atmosphere of stifling tradition and unbreakable family loyalty. There is so much riding on the families' good name, nothing can be allowed to endanger those 'brands'. It's not a scenario restricted to grumpy French provinces; for example, the Chinese call it 'face'.
It's a study in the flame slowly dying on a candle that has so much life left in it - but I find it all being said in dialogue, rather then demonstrated in action.
In many respects the film is a farewell to cinema from Claude Miller, suitably hushed in tone, aptly circling death and notably classical in its approach, from camera to mis en scene to performances. The latter, each remarkably effective in conveying character, from the leads to the smallest supports, delivers one of the main joys of the film for me. I admire the filmmaking but the story itself, even if vaguely relevant, is too dusty for my liking.
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THÉRÈSE D (M)
CAST: Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lelouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Catherine Arditi, Isabelle Sadoyan, Max Morel, Stanley Weber, Alba Gaïa Bellugi Matilda Marty-Giraut
PRODUCER: Yves Marmion
DIRECTOR: Claude Miller
SCRIPT: Claude Miller, Natalie Carter (novel by Francois Mauriac)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gérard de Battista
EDITOR: Véronique Lange
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Brenguier
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 11, 2013
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