Thursday, September 12, 2013
Audrey Tatou continues to grow in complexity onscreen. In the handsome and elegantly mounted period drama, Thèrése, the former Amelie gamine stars as a young woman entangled in bourgeois dynastic obligations in the southwest French countryside in the 1920s.
It's a part that calls for brisk intelligence (but not warmth) quiet desperation and a soupcon of cold fury, and Tatou plays every note with striking precision.
The final offering from the late French filmmaker Claude Miller, the film is adapted from the 1927 novel, Thèrése Desqueyroux, by Francois Mauriac. (Miller co-wrote the screenplay with Natalie Carter.) Although the novel was written long before modern notions of feminism had gained much currency, its portrait of a woman trapped in an ill-fitting social role continues to have resonance today.
As young girls, Thèrése and her best friend, Anne, grow up as best friends in adjoining estates nestled in a vast pine forest outside of Bordeaux. Anne is active, uncomplicated, "simple;" Thèrése always has her nose in a book. Everyone assumes that Thèrése will marry Anne's older brother, Bernard Desqueyroux, uniting the families' properties, and so it comes to pass—although his mother (the great Catherine Arditi) worries that Thèrése "thinks too much."
Thèrése (now played by Tatou) jokes to Bernard (Gilles Lellouche) that she's marrying him for his pines; theirs is not a love match, but she tells Anne (played as an adult by Anais Demoustier) she hopes marriage will "save" her and put the chaotic ideas in her head into some kind of order.
But marriage to pompous Bernard is hardly salvation. Uninterested in him physically, yet rushed into motherhood, she finds herself confined, not liberated, by her wifely duties.Oppressed by every aspect of her life, Thèrése begins to take a perverse interest in the arsenic-laced medicinal drops Bernard takes for his health.
If the novel had been written, say, half a century earlier, this would be a very different scenario. Viewers expecting a conventional morality play a la Anna Karenina, say, complete with passionate awakening and forbidden love affair, may be surprised at the way these events play out. It all adds up to an engrossing portrait of psychological turmoil in an era of simmering cultural upheaval. (Read more)