Often times, character studies are difficult to translate from the script to the screen. That may be one of the trappings of the creative process – it’s easy for the author or a screenwriter to fully understand the gradations of character, but putting all of that up in lights takes an awful lot of talent. Talent of a producer. Talent of a director. Talent of the actors. If any individual piece is out of place, then the entire examination might come apart at the seams, leaving those trying to grasp it all with only hints of what to make of it all. It doesn’t mean that the film will be wasted; it only means that it probably won’t be appreciated as deeply as all originally intended.
The same could be said about life, after all.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Young Thérèse(played by the darling of French cinema herself, the lovely Audrey Tautou) spends her days in the beautiful, wooded region of Landes in southwest France running through the pines with her best friend, Anna (an equally lovely Anais Demoustier). To keep their families together, Thérèse weds Anna’s brother Bernard (Gilles Lellouche, in an understated performance). However, when it appears Anna’s found love with a young Portuguese man outside the preferred family lines, Thérèsebegins a carefully crafted descent into unraveling not only her own attempt at happiness but also everyone’s around her, including her traditionalist husband.
THERESE is the kind of drama that only the French could perfect. There’s always an air of aristocracy to everything their characters do, and there’s usually a heavy nuance of rebelliousness that’s helped define a nation of people who so proudly brought us high art. So, naturally, THERESE strives to combine the meaty treatises of social class, heartfelt expressions of love, and family responsibility in ways that the dramatic cinema of other countries can’t quite match (even if they tried); and, in some regards, it features some solid, convincing performances of its big and smaller players, all photographed in terrific period detail equally unmatched around the globe.
Unfortunately, there’s also a general vacuousness to its story. “Girl meets boy, girl marries boy, and then it all goes south” is simply the best way to describe its narrative and, for the life of me, I couldn’t so make as give you a hint as to why. As it’s based on a novel, I’m stuck wondering if perhaps there’s plenty lost in translation from the page to the screen.
Tautou’s Thérèse – while obviously the central character here – never operates from crystal clear motivations. As viewers, we’re treated to her descent but only circumstantially teased as to its cause. Was it a rejection of the social mores of the era? Was it finding herself in a loveless commitment to a man who clearly loved her? Was this a case of post-partum depression gradually eating away at one woman’s soul? Throwing in some hints at cynicism, feminism, and repression only further cloud the subject; but if director Miller intended for audiences to make up their own minds on the matter, isn’t that a symptom of intellectual laziness?
In contrast, Anna is a woman given a screen life that, while we may not agree with all of it, makes sense. Perhaps defying her birthright, she fails for a low man – a handsome sailor with poetic sensibilities – but her family denies the relationship. Thérèseeven goes so far as to hoax a break-up letter from her lover, forever pitting the two from this point forward as rivals. While Anna’s motivations are refreshingly understandable, Thérèse’s remain more than a bit elusive, and that’s a weight too heavy for even Tautou to shrug off.
This is an exceedingly well-made film. It boasts some great photography – almost picturesque in several ways – along with some terrific acting and even a handful of small, quieter moments. However, the way the entirety of THERESE unfolds, it’s difficult to say definitively if Thérèsestruggled with a lifelong problem with depression or just plain stupidity.
THERESE (aka Therese D; aka Therese Desqueyroux) (2012) is produced by a whole host of partners, including UGC, Les films du 24, Canal+, Ciné, and many many more (surf on over to IMDB.com for a complete list if you’re that interested). DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through MPI Home Video. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a French-spoken-language release with English subtitles available (there is no English-dubbed track). As for the technical specifications, the film has obviously been crafted with tremendous care – complete with some exceptional cinematography – so you can rest assured that you’ll enjoy the highest quality sight and sound. Also – again only for clarity’s sake – I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is a cinematic adaptation of Francois Mauriac’s 1927 novel. Sadly (and lastly), there are no special features, and that’s a H-U-G-E miss: I would’ve liked something by way of Cliff Notes to go along with what the director, writer, and actors all thought and brought to this material … but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. It isn’t as if THERESE fails as a motion picture; rather it only fails as a character study. Our heroine (or is that anti-heroine?) goes through the motions of some modest highs and lowly lows, yet there’s no undercurrent that helps it all make perfect sense. In fact, director Miller fails to convince me that even he had made up his mind about what was truly at the heart of one woman’s motivations, let alone a few others along for the ride. Because we’re given no clear investment, Thérèse (as a character) seems fairly one-dimensional; when one has the world at her fingertips, why let it all slip away? Disinterest? Malaise? Fate? Instead of making us understand her plight, Miller instead has his players hit their marks – which they do with great effectiveness – and leaves the heavy lifting to us.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Home Video provided me with a DVD copy of THERESE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more