Married life is hard; few survive unscathed by hurt and bitter feelings. Some merely survive. In the 2012 “Thérèse Desqueyroux,” a wife of a wealthy landowner decides to off her boorish husband. In his last work director Claude Miller focuses his lense on Audrey Tautou but as the eponymous wife she lacks the lightness and whimsy of “Amélie” and Tautou’s repressed Thérèse fails to gain our sympathy or understanding.
Don’t confuse this movie with the 1986 film on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. This is also not the 2013 movie based on Emile Zola’s 1886 novel “Thérèse Raquin” with Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Lange.
Based on a 1927 novel by Françoise Mauriac, this movie whisks us away to the beautiful southwest region of France in the late 1920s. We are among the wealthy and clearly money doesn’t buy happiness. Thérèse and her best friend Ann (Anaïs Demoustier as the adult Ann) live on adjoining properties. In 1922 this seems like a fortuitous event for the girls. Six years later, it spells disaster for Thérèse when she is married off to Ann’s brother, Bernard (Gilles Lellouche). This is a marriage of convenience–joining two well-to-do families and making their larger properties larger.
Thérèse doesn’t tremble with joy and explode in agony at this marriage. One doesn’t sympathize with her husband. There are husbands who might be worth murdering or situations that might make one sympathize with a murdering wife, but Bernard isn’t a monster. He’s boorish and spoiled–one of those only sons who is a pampered prince of whining.
From the wedding to her daily life, Thérèse simply endures. Her lack of pleasure in her life dulls even her friendship with Ann who finds passion with a mysterious stranger. This match is opposed by Ann’s family, but all of Ann’s rebellious will is for not. She is but a romantic distraction for the interloper. Thérèse cannot reveal the man’s true intentions to her friend, thus ending the friendship and perhaps leaving Thérèse to wonder if men can love at all.
There’s no denying the beauty of the French countryside, but this doesn’t make this dull movie worth seeing. We don’t understand Thérèse or her inner turmoil prior to marriage nor her motivations for her desperate actions that set her family and his against her. Tatou’s Thérèse is suppressed into stagnant stares and pursed lips. I love the French countryside and Tatou, but I do not love this film.