THERESE DESQUEYROUX: A Review

THERESE DESQUEYROUX: A Review by Salty Kernel, Andrew Brusentsev

March 26th 2013 03:53

THERESE DESQUEYROUX is a novel by Francois Mauriac and future Nobel Prize winner. Written in 1927 it was regarded at the time and still is as one of the touchstones of French literature, but not being a French speaker I was not familiar with this novel at all and I would say that outside a group of French cinema lovers this probably is not apparently obvious to most audiences. The movie is also poignant in that it is the last movie of Claude Miller its director who died before he was able to see it close the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and compete for the much prized Palme D’Or.


Therese Desqueyroux starring Audrey Tautou
Therese Desqueyroux starring Audrey Tautou

 

The story unfolds in the interwar years (WWI and WWII) amongst the vast pines of France’s Bordeaux region where the land-owning Catholic families who owe their historic wealth to these forests live out their lives by marrying neighbouring families in the relentless pursuit of more pine. We are introduced to a severe looking Tautou, who plays Therese. From the outset we see her as an emotionally reserved but complex young woman, well read and worldly, incongruent to her ancient traditional surroundings, A woman born in the wrong time and place. She is married off by her father, but not with her apparent consent, in her late teens to the chauvinistic and casually anti-Semitic heir of another local dynasty. Bernard Desqueroux (Gilles Lellouche from 2010’s hit Point Blank) has a forceful personality, yet she is still fascinated by this man and his opinions. It is both their aims, it must be said, to unite the traditions of these ancient families and more importantly to unite the pines. To be fair there seems to be more affection for this alliance from Bernard’s side whereas Therese views it as an alliance and contract that must be endured.

 

Claude Miller, Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anais Demoustier

 

Garard de Battista’s cinematography does a wonderful job of painting the canvas with dull colours to underscore the stifling and oppressive air of this traditional setting. Most strikingly captured in the most underwhelming marriage I have witnessed in a long time. Coming back from their honeymoon, Therese is quickly stifled by the tedium of provincial life and the intellectual mediocrity of her husband and his oppressive family. To make matters seemingly worse Therese falls pregnant, it seems her life will be married alive in this ancient oppressive land. She seeks solace in Bernard’s younger sister who has become enamoured with a local boy that Bernard assumes is Jewish. This awakens something in Therese but only in her internal makeup, nothing seems to change her repressed outer exterior. That is until the day Bernard almost poisons himself with arsenic which has been prescribed to him by the local pharmacist. What starts as an accident quickly turns into an attempt at poisoning. Therese is discovered and disgraced in her own family, as well as that of her husband. I leave the rest for you the viewer to discover.

 

Claude Miller, Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anais Demoustier

 

Claude Miller was one of world cinema’s most sophisticated filmmakers but I have to say I found much of the calm, reserved traditional tones of his final film, although very typical of his style, also slightly frustrating. If you are a filmgoer who will be attracted by the two star names and the seeming murder-mystery trappings I think you will walk away quite disappointed.

 

Claude Miller, Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anais Demoustier

 

THERESE DESQUEYROUX works best as a character study and the acting performances by all are excellent. Tautou is very impressive as a whip smart but desperately unhappy woman who, despite her extreme actions, finds that her fate, no matter her choices, remains ever elusive. Lellouche is equal to the task of sharing the screen and it is for the scenes between them that this movie is worth the price of admission.

 

Claude Miller, Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anais Demoustier

 

If you enjoy a slow, measured character study then this movie is for you. For me, like Therese, I walked away feeling that somehow either I had missed something or Claude did not make his point strongly enough. I give this film 6.5 out of 10 – the film releases on April 11th 2013.