Director: Claude Miller
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Catherine Arditi
Watch online on: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema
Chosen to close the 2012 Cannes Film Festival in honour of its director, the late Claude Miller, Thérèse Desqueyroux is a beautifully shot, but sadly stale, piece of French drama based on the celebrated novel by François Mauriac.
Audrey Tautou stars as the eponymous heroine, who marries old-money figure Bernard (Gilles Lellouche) for his money as much as his personality. Soon, though, Thérèse grows bored with married life on a rural estate. As her desire to leave grows, she turns to increasingly sinister measures.
Tautou’s performance is a great one – ever since her performance as Amélie Poulain, she’s been most famous outside the French-speaking world for a series of similarly likeable and upbeat characters. Her Thérèse is brilliantly off-piste. There’s an edge, a sharpness, to Thérèse that goes from abrasive to quickly unsettling; it’s clear before too long that there’s more than a little bit wrong with her.
It’s a shame, then, that the movie that surrounds her gives her frustratingly little to do. To be fair, her co-stars are all doing a great job – Gilles Lellouche’s Bernard strikes a nice balance between being attached and paradoxically distant to his wife, while Anaïs Demoustier’s Anne, a childhood friend of Thérèse, is a quixotic woman whose passion quickly becomes tragic – there’s also a hint of a more sexual bond between the two, skilfully suggested by both Tautou and Demoustier.
But, like many period dramas of the same kind of bent, this is a case of preserving style over substance. Like the characters themselves, constantly complaining about the summer heat, it’s easy to feel somewhat stifled by the film.
Make no mistake, it’s a nice-looking film and there are some interesting conversations to be had between Thérèse and Bernard, but it ultimately feels too slow and plodding to gain any real emotional traction. Some parts of the story which seem genuinely interesting are skipped over without a moment’s pause; the misguided Anne’s former lover Jean (Stanley Weber) has an interesting exchange with Thérèse early in the film, but before he gets a chance to develop his character vanishes off the face of the Earth and is never mentioned again.
It seems odd that Thérèse Desqueyroux was chosen for a feature adaptation rather than a miniseries – it would certainly have done well with the Downton Abbey crowd. As a movie, it’s a gorgeous but stuffy experience, like sitting in a drawing room on a summer’s afternoon.
You can watch Thérèse Desqueyroux on Cuzon Home Cinema from Friday 7th June 2013.