Thérèse Desqueyroux (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner07/06/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

Watchable French drama with a strong central performance from Audrey Tautou, but the direction feels sluggish throughout and the story ultimately lacks emotional impact.

What's it all about?
Directed by Claude Miller (who sadly died shortly after the film was completed), Thérèse Desqueyroux is based on the 1927 French novel by François Mauriac and is also a remake of Georges Franju's 1962 version. Set in 1920s Bordeaux, the film begins with teenaged best friends Thérèse and Anne (Alba Gaia Bellugi and Matilda Marty-Giraut) sharing their dreams of the future, a sequence that abruptly ends when Anne tells Thérèse that everyone expects her to marry her brother, Bernard, since their families jointly own all the pine-tree-covered land in the area.

Six years later, Thérèse (now played by Audrey Tautou) is indeed married to boorish Bernard (Gilles Lellouche), while the still carefree Anne (now Anais Demoustier) lusts after handsome local boatman Azevedo (Stanley Weber). Frustrated in her own marriage and seemingly jealous of Anne's love for Azevedo, Thérèse readily intervenes when Bernard's family ask her to help break up Anne's relationship. Meanwhile, her own marriage deteriorates to the point where she considers taking drastic action.

The Good
Though slightly too old to be playing women in their early 20s (there's 11 years between her and Demoustier and they're supposed to be the same age), Tautou delivers a strong performance as permanently unhappy Thérèse and she sparks effective chemistry with Demoustier (there's a hint of sexual attraction between them, but this isn't really explored). There's also engaging support from both Demoustier (whose character, disappointingly, disappears early on) and Lellouche, who complicates things by making Bernard a little too likeable.

The film is beautifully shot throughout, with Gérard de Battista's cinematography making strong use of the gorgeous locations – a repeated image of Azevedo sailing in the distance is extremely striking and looks like a painting. Similarly, the production design is excellent and there are some nice touches throughout; like the 1962 version, the film could almost be read as an anti-smoking diatribe, since Thérèse's constant chain-smoking is central to the plot.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is that the story lacks emotional impact; Thérèse's actions are shocking, but they don't really seem justified by her circumstances. Part of the problem lies with the loss of the novel's interior monologue, which essentially reduces Thérèse to sitting around, chain-smoking and scowling a lot, since she has no-one to confide in; she writes letters to Azevedo, but this, again, goes nowhere.

On top of that, the direction feels sluggish throughout and there isn't quite enough plot to justify the film's 110 minute running time, so it drags considerably, especially in the middle section.

Worth seeing?
Tautou and Lellouche ensure that Thérèse Desqueyroux is worth seeing, but the overall story is occasionally frustrating and lacks both emotional and dramatic impact.

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Content updated: 22/10/2017 01:46

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