Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Therese

Claude Miller’s final film is a sheer masterwork, one of the greatest literary adaptations in screen memory.

Aug 22, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1383588-Therese_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece Madame Bovary bears a strong resemblance to Francois Mauriac’s lesser-known (but still taught in French schools) Thérèse Desqueyroux; each has a nonconformist heroine trapped in a stifling bourgeois marriage and committing outrageous deeds in an attempt to escape. Many screen adaptions of the Flaubert have been made by the eminent likes of Renoir, Minnelli and Chabrol, but none has been as successful as Claude Miller’s version of Mauriac. This was the director’s swan song, before his death in 2012, and I cannot think of a more glorious way to go out than with this exquisitely rendered, near-perfect and definitively French film.

Audrey Tautou plays Thérèse, the tragically smart girl who marries Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lellouche), thinking that his vast pinewood holdings, big house and close-knit family will make the perfect life, and it’s as if we have never seen this actress before. It’s a role Bette Davis would have killed for, with its suffocating repression that erupts in the rashest of acts when Thérèse decides to poison him. She does this not for the love of another man or out of any particular homicidal pathology within herself, and that is the brilliance of Mauriac, making her that rare truly existential heroine, which Miller—and Tautou—capture with sublime acuity and tact.

For years now, Tautou has been the very definition of gamine, especially in the diabetically winsome and popular Amélie, something she couldn’t shed even when taking on the strong character of Coco Chanel. However, in this film, she has shed all precocious prettiness, presenting what amounts to a searingly intense deadpan for most of the movie that is absolutely riveting. Yes, Thérèse is a complete enigma, a seething volcano which never really gets to explode, but such is Tautou’s total, preternatural immersion in and identification with the role that she is never a bore or a blank; you are with her all the way. Thérèse’s misfortune is that she is a woman both ahead and out of her time, perhaps an artist without a calling. Motherhood is something to which she is completely indifferent and, smokily puffing away and ignoring her crying daughter, Tautou makes you feel every dissatisfied nerve of her being.

Lellouche is also terrific, actually humanizing Mauriac’s Bernard with all of his ingrained machismo and conforming stuffiness, a strong—and eventually destructive—equal to Thérèse. Their scenes offer a chilling, fully realized portrait of a bad marriage, yet their final one together has the piercing quality of heartbreak, with Bernard accepting a fate every bit as lonely, but probably far more empty than his disgraced wife’s. (Tautou’s face at the very end, as she walks the streets of Paris, finally free, rivals Garbo’s in Queen Christina for richly interpretative potency.)

Everything else about Thérèse is nigh flawless. There are the miraculously well-cast performances of the wonderfully doughty Catherine Arditi as Bernard’s proper bigot of a mother, Isabelle Sadoyan—like a Gallic version of the great Elizabeth Patterson—as his servile maiden aunt, and lovely Anaïs Demoustier as his sister Anne, whose thwarted love for a rich neighboring Jew, Jean Acevedo (Stanley Weber), really incites Thérèse’s instinct to rebel. The film is also incredibly beautiful to look at, from the delicious red of the sail of Acevedo’s skiff against a sapphire sea, which seems to symbolize all the passion lacking in the Desqueyroux family, to the bedroom where Thérèse is banished, like a Vuillard come to life. Mathieu Alvado’s spare music score has a pristine subtlety to it, chosen, as was every gorgeously apropos detail here, by a master filmmaker who can surely rest in peace, having made his final, and greatest, work.


Film Review: Therese

Claude Miller’s final film is a sheer masterwork, one of the greatest literary adaptations in screen memory.

Aug 22, 2013

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1383588-Therese_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece Madame Bovary bears a strong resemblance to Francois Mauriac’s lesser-known (but still taught in French schools) Thérèse Desqueyroux; each has a nonconformist heroine trapped in a stifling bourgeois marriage and committing outrageous deeds in an attempt to escape. Many screen adaptions of the Flaubert have been made by the eminent likes of Renoir, Minnelli and Chabrol, but none has been as successful as Claude Miller’s version of Mauriac. This was the director’s swan song, before his death in 2012, and I cannot think of a more glorious way to go out than with this exquisitely rendered, near-perfect and definitively French film.

Audrey Tautou plays Thérèse, the tragically smart girl who marries Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lellouche), thinking that his vast pinewood holdings, big house and close-knit family will make the perfect life, and it’s as if we have never seen this actress before. It’s a role Bette Davis would have killed for, with its suffocating repression that erupts in the rashest of acts when Thérèse decides to poison him. She does this not for the love of another man or out of any particular homicidal pathology within herself, and that is the brilliance of Mauriac, making her that rare truly existential heroine, which Miller—and Tautou—capture with sublime acuity and tact.

For years now, Tautou has been the very definition of gamine, especially in the diabetically winsome and popular Amélie, something she couldn’t shed even when taking on the strong character of Coco Chanel. However, in this film, she has shed all precocious prettiness, presenting what amounts to a searingly intense deadpan for most of the movie that is absolutely riveting. Yes, Thérèse is a complete enigma, a seething volcano which never really gets to explode, but such is Tautou’s total, preternatural immersion in and identification with the role that she is never a bore or a blank; you are with her all the way. Thérèse’s misfortune is that she is a woman both ahead and out of her time, perhaps an artist without a calling. Motherhood is something to which she is completely indifferent and, smokily puffing away and ignoring her crying daughter, Tautou makes you feel every dissatisfied nerve of her being.

Lellouche is also terrific, actually humanizing Mauriac’s Bernard with all of his ingrained machismo and conforming stuffiness, a strong—and eventually destructive—equal to Thérèse. Their scenes offer a chilling, fully realized portrait of a bad marriage, yet their final one together has the piercing quality of heartbreak, with Bernard accepting a fate every bit as lonely, but probably far more empty than his disgraced wife’s. (Tautou’s face at the very end, as she walks the streets of Paris, finally free, rivals Garbo’s in Queen Christina for richly interpretative potency.)

Everything else about Thérèse is nigh flawless. There are the miraculously well-cast performances of the wonderfully doughty Catherine Arditi as Bernard’s proper bigot of a mother, Isabelle Sadoyan—like a Gallic version of the great Elizabeth Patterson—as his servile maiden aunt, and lovely Anaïs Demoustier as his sister Anne, whose thwarted love for a rich neighboring Jew, Jean Acevedo (Stanley Weber), really incites Thérèse’s instinct to rebel. The film is also incredibly beautiful to look at, from the delicious red of the sail of Acevedo’s skiff against a sapphire sea, which seems to symbolize all the passion lacking in the Desqueyroux family, to the bedroom where Thérèse is banished, like a Vuillard come to life. Mathieu Alvado’s spare music score has a pristine subtlety to it, chosen, as was every gorgeously apropos detail here, by a master filmmaker who can surely rest in peace, having made his final, and greatest, work.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Bicycling with Moliere
Film Review: Bicycling with Moliere

This sly, witty, charming comedic contemporary study of a fraught friendship between two actors hoping to mount a Molière classic is also a ride through France’s beautiful Ile de Ré island. More »

Locke
Film Review: Locke

Taut, disturbing and unique drama about a man racing toward his destiny, providing Tom Hardy, literally, with a vehicle to flaunt his acting chops. More »

Small Time
Film Review: Small Time

You might not buy a used car from the guys in Small Time, but you will enjoy the movie about their exploits, even their exploitations (of others). More »

Fading Gigolo
Film Review: Fading Gigolo

Some top screen talent gets lost in the silliness surrounding the amorous adventures of an unlikely gigolo and his even more unlikely pimp, with writer/director/actor John Turturro the shtupper “ho” co-starring with Woody Allen as the mercenary shtup-enabler. Yarmulkes off to Turturro’s brave but deeply ill-conceived comedic foray into Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community and other alien territory. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Transcendence
Film Review: Transcendence

Johnny Depp is an idealistic researcher whose consciousness is uploaded into an artificial intelligence in this slick techno-thriller with delusions of seriousness from Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. More »

Draft Day
Film Review: Draft Day

Pro football manager faces crises on the most important day of his career in a well-tooled vehicle for Kevin Costner. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here