Alternate Title: Therese Desqueyroux
Life didn’t offer many options for young women in the 1920s. And a future as a housewife was particularly less than thrilling for the eponymous character in Claude Miller’s final film Therese, which centers on a young woman (played by Audrey Tautou) growing up in the southwest of France with all of her power and potential wrapped up in pine-tree laden property and a head that she admits is too full of ideas.
Though she’d hoped the marriage would finally bring her some peace of mind, sure enough, it’s precisely this wandering mind filled with longing and ideas that brings about her downfall. In Therese’s case in fact, things are set into a downward spiral shortly after she’s said “I do” to Bernard (Gilles Lellouche), the older brother of Anne (Anais Demoustier), her best friend and young neighbor.
Upon discovering that the joining of property and life engaging in polite small talk about the weather with a man whom in all reality she has very little in common does not equal the same type of all-encompassing Anne herself has just experienced and eagerly written her about, Therese begins to feel an impending sense of doom as early as her honeymoon.
Tasked with the role of breaking up Anne and her true love by Bernard’s family who are appalled at the match of their daughter with a Jewish man of Portuguese descent, Therese finds herself not only envious of the romantic passion experienced by her childhood friend but also jealous of the liberated mind and spirit of freedom embodied by her handsome love (Stanley Weber).
Unfortunately, we’re left to infer most of this by Tautou’s anguished, unsmiling face, the long stretches of silence that pass on the film’s soundtrack and the sparse dialogue that goes from awkward to downright rude (usually on Therese’s end) shared by Lellouche and Tautou.
For although Tautou is a remarkable actress, there’s little for us to empathize with during the film as she mostly comes off as a cold, calculating bitch. Whereas perhaps unintentionally Lellouche’s Bernard becomes the character we’re in turn most fascinated by as he stands by his wife, putting family above all else even after her behavior has gone so off the rails that she’s threatened everything.
Based on the 1927 novel by the Nobel Prize winning author Francois Mauriac, Therese suffers in translation by leaving far too much on the page, failing to keep us interested – let alone riveted – without giving us more to connect to whether in terms of our leading lady or by building up the other characters to make the adaptation succeed as a film in its own right.
A veritable museum piece with some exquisitely beautiful images, while it would undoubtedly have benefited from a narrator or intimate knowledge of the source material, unfortunately as it stands, there’s nothing in this portrait of a miserable lady that we haven’t seen executed much better before in a Henry James or Edith Wharton adaptation.
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