Yesterday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center kicked off its Rendez-vous with French Cinema series with the U.S. premiere of “Populaire.” Today, producer Annie Miller and actress Audrey Tautou are expected at the U.S. premiere of “Therese Desqueyroux.”
BERNARD: So many ideas in your head…
THERESE: It’s up to you to destroy them.
So begins the foreboding dialogue between Bernard and Thérèse, the soon to be married couple at the center of director Claude Miller’s 2012 film, “Thérèse Desqueyroux.” Adapted from the classic 1920s novel by François Mauriac, the film transports us to southwestern France where a wealthy Catholic family clings tightly to their prominent role as landowners. Lushly shot amidst the pine forests of Landes, the moody film raises questions about an individual’s role in society, duty to one’s family, and the existence of God, to name just a few. Audrey Tatou stars as Thérèse, who desperately wants to escape the confines of the rigid family into which she married. She yearns for something beyond her small-town life—but what exactly? She does not know. Perpetually dissatisfied, somber, and unable to connect with her husband, her only true happiness shows through in moments spent with her sister-in-law Anne. She envies Anne’s simplicity, her pure love for a young man from the village–one wonders whether her feelings for Anne go beyond those of a platonic friendship.
When Thérèse becomes pregnant, she confides in Anne that Bernard prizes her as a vessel for his unborn child, and loves only the fruit of her womb. The lengths she goes to in a desperate attempt to free herself from Bernard have greater repercussions than Thérèse could ever have anticipated. The results of her shocking act paint a harsh poirtrait of the Desqueyroux family, who will stop at nothing to preserve their honor.
The greatest challenge this film faces is giving the audience a way to connect with Thérèse; try as one might, it is difficult to justify the protagonist’s cold treatment towards her infant daughter and oafish, yet seemingly well-intentioned husband. Tatou, in a dramatic departure from the bright-eyed roles for which she is loved, is very convincing as the famously complicated protagonist, but one is left wishing for more of a fight from Thérèse, who instead spirals into listless depression as the film progresses. This is Audrey Tatou as we have never seen her before, and her interpretation of the complex Thérèse is fascinating.