Film review: THERESE DESQUEYROUX, from Built For Speed

Like its title character, Therese Desqueyroux has a refined surface beauty and a subdued manner but with tension and despair bubbling underneath.

The troubled Thérèse (Audrey Tatou) is a free spirit, an intellectual and seemingly in love with another woman, Anne (Anais Demoustier) or at least the memory of the passionate friendship and freedom they shared as teenagers.  Thérèse is, therefore, pretty much everything a woman in 1920’s provincial France was not supposed to be.  Confused about her place in the world, she acquiesces to social convention by marrying Anne’s brother Bernard (Gilles Lellouche).  Thérèse says with a mix of hope and trepidation that with marriage her “thoughts will go back in order”.  As her marriage to the boorish Bernard deteriorates, Thérèse makes a series of moral decisions that threaten the happiness and even the lives of those around her.

Thérèse Desqueyroux subtly but powerfully conveys the stultifying atmosphere of a loveless marriage and the oppressive life of a woman consigned to the roles of wife, mother and social ornament.  It has little of the sound and fury of a film like Revolutionary Road but is no less potent in its depiction of the disaster a dysfunctional relationship can become.

As Thérèse, Audrey Tatou delivers one of her best performances to date and leaves memories of the perky ingénue Amelie far behind.  Tautou’s grim, pensive facial expressions speak volumes about the confusion, longing, jealousy and bitterness whirring away in Thérèse’s mind.  Remarkably, she manages to make Thérèse moving, sympathetic but also despicable.  Gilles Lellouche portrays Bernard as a misogynist and anti-Semite oaf but still finds a grain of sympathy in his character; he is as much hostage to the attitudes and social structure of the time as Thérèse.

Attractively shot by cinematographer Gérard de Battista the film captures the idyllic beauty of provincial France but also punctures this with disturbing images of decay and destruction such as birds having their necks snapped and dogs attacking a young woman.

This film, which is based on the 1927 Francois Mauriac novel, will not satisfy all tastes as it’s slow moving and not particularly uplifting. For those willing to sit back and simply imbibe the excellent performances and typically fine direction from the late Claude Miller this will be a worthwhile experience.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Claude Miller

Release date: 11th Apr 2013

Running time: 110 mins.


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