By Don Simpson | August 19, 2013
Director: Claude Miller
Writers: Claude Miller (screenplay), Natalie Carter (sceenplay), François Mauriac (novel)
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Catherine Arditi, Isabelle Sadoyan, Francis Perrin, Jean-Claude Calon, Max Morel, Françoise Goubert, Stanley Weber, Alba Gaïa Bellugi, Matilda Marty-Giraut
Thérèse (Audrey Tautou) is a strong-minded French provincial woman who makes very calculated decisions. So, when she decides to marry Bernard (Gilles Lellouche), it is for purely practical purposes. Both of their families own significant acreages of pine trees. Combining their total land ownership equates to more power and influence. Besides, Thérèse does not seem to have any other marital options in this remote southwestern region of France, where thousands of acres of dense forest separate one neighbor from the next.
What Thérèse does not factor into her decision to marry Bernard is her resulting loss of freedom. Even though Bernard approaches their marriage with the same nonchalance as Thérèse, he takes his role as husband much more seriously after the nuptials are exchanged. Thérèse does not recognize the suffocating severity of the situation until she witnesses how Bernard’s strict Catholic family contends with an undesirable romance between Anne (Anaïs Demoustier) — Bernard’s younger sister and Thérèse’s childhood best friend — and a young Portuguese man (Stanley Weber). Not only does this situation reveal just how cold and manipulative Bernard’s family can be, but it also introduces Thérèse to the notion of true love, which is something that she has only ever experienced via literature.
Adapted from François Mauriac’s 1927 novel Thérèse Desqueyroux, the eponymous Thérèse channels Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina as an empowered and independent woman living in a time and place that women are expected to be anything but. What truly differentiates Mauriac’s novel from the other literature of its time is its unusual narrative structure and shifting perspectives, but writer-director Claude Miller’s adaptation opts to convey the story quite simply and linearly, via an omnipotent vantage point. Miller’s film barely touches upon Thérèse’s crush on Anne, opting to not muddy up her marital discontent with allusions to closeted lesbianism; Miller also chooses not to describe the film’s characters, as Mauriac does, by their physical imperfections.
Though the young Thérèse (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) and Anne (Matilda Marty-Giraut) seem fairly close in age during the film’s prologue, the 12 year age gap between Audrey Tautou and Anaïs Demoustier is distractingly evident for the remainder of the film. That distraction aside, this is a perfect role for Tautou, who is finally allowed to fully separate herself from her iconically quirky performance as Amélie Pauline.