Although initially, she had been enchanted with the idea of marrying her best friend’s brother, Thérèse (Audrey Tautou) is a young woman who is deeply unhappy in her marriage. In order to free herself, Thérèse makes some questionable and selfish decisions.
Based on a book of the same name, Thérèse Desqueyroux is the story of martial strife and desperate measures. Although the book – like the film which starred Emmanuelle Riva in the title role – is told retrospectively, with Claude Miller’s film, the audience is with Thérèse as she outgrows her childhood crushes and moves into adulthood and all the responsibility that brings.
Audrey Tautou is a wonderful actress, but she does not have a lot to do here. Thérèse is a woman who keeps a lot to herself so, other than looking pensive and laying around a lot, Tautou is fairly stoic. That said, she does manage to make the audience care about her and seeing as the character’s actions are selfish to say the least – and a little inexplicable – this is no mean feat. Gilles Lellouche does fairly well as Thérèse’s husband but again, other than complain about his health and his fear for his livelihood, the only range that Lellouche is given is cruelty. Anaïs Demoustier as Anne is the actor who perhaps has the most to do, but as soon as her doomed love affair succumbs to its fate, she fades into the background of the piece.
Elements of the story are quickly picked up and dropped throughout the film, but even when the audience believes they know in which direction the story is going to go, the narrative manages to keep us guessing. This does not always work in the film’s favour, however, as storylines tend not to resurface, leaving the film feeling unfinished.
Claude Miller has created a strong look and atmosphere for the film, and there is little doubt that when a character’s motivations are clear, the actor’s performance is strong, but motivations seem to come and go, leaving the film feeling a little lost and loose. That said, Thérèse Desqueyroux is an entertaining film, but the audience simply does not get the resolution that they need. This could be explained by the fact that the narrative structure of the book was changed for the film to flow in chronological order – and maybe this does explain the issues to a degree – but it also seems that the film suffers from some unsure direction.
Thérèse Desqueyroux contains strong performances and atmosphere, but a lack of character’s motivations and storylines flitting on and off screen, only to be forgotten means that the film feels slight and many questions are left unanswered.