Movie Review: “Therese Desqueyroux” – Dated French Drama

Written by Emily McWilliams March 24, 2013

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Claude Miller’s last film, “Therese Desqueyroux”, is a literary adaptation starring Audrey Tatou.  Miller’s interpretation of the source material is well structured and beautifully filmed as it condenses time and visualizes the character’s emotions through dream sequences.  Despite the film’s technical and visual achievements, it’s sometimes overly ambiguous nature regarding the characters and subject matter can be disengaging for the audience to comprehend.  In this elegant film that pays close attention to period details, sets, and costumes, the ultimate purpose of the film gets lost in the meandering story.

A Woman’s Desire To Break Free

Therese (Tatou) is a young woman on the verge of being placed in a strategic marriage that will consolidate the land between two prominent families.  At first, Therese is ambivalent about the marriage, and thinks that maybe it will make her life more interesting.  It is soon apparent that her new life and husband, Bernard (Gilles Lellouche) are stifiling and full of hypocrisy.  Therese feels jealousy when her friend and sister-in-law, Anne, experiences true romance, forcing Therese to feel more restless about the life she is being forced to live.  The film focuses on Therese’s attempts to break free from her marriage, resorting to some drastic techniques that almost destroy her identity in the process.

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Beautiful Detail-Oriented Film

Visually, this film is astonishing.  Miller has a sharp eye for organizing characters and objects in the frame to communicate a sense of coldness and stiffness that comes from Therese’s upper class family.  There are also some beautiful shots of open water and forests that allude to Therese’s desire to escape.  As well, the 1920s costumes and set pieces contributed to the film’s historical accuracy and were well crafted.  Luckily, there were lots of design oriented details that made the movie interesting to watch when the plot started to sag under its melodramatic weight.

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Meandering Plot Weakens Message

About half-way through the film, “Therese Desqueyroux” takes a “Yellow Wallpaper” inspired turn in relation to the characters and plots.  This part of the movie was unexpected, leading to some well-developed, but overall, confusing aspects.  Therese’s character physically and mentally starts to disintegrate, making it difficult to identify with or even understand her situation. From her introduction, Therese had been a rigid character, but that trait made sense as she tried to distinguish herself from her family.  Therese becomes unrecognizable from the woman the audience came to know, which would have been fine, but then she essentially recovers and the film ends shortly after that.  Therese’s transformation is closely related to the meaning of the film but overall seemed unmotivated and unrealistic, leaving me wondering what the point of the film was.

“Therese Desqueyroux” is a quiet, slow-paced historical drama that fails to articulate a message related to women’s roles in society.  It is a lovely and visual film with a certain grace, but ultimately doesn’t hold the audience’s attention because of its muddled message.

My Rating: 6/10

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