Judge Gordon Sullivan isn't quite a social climber; he practiced on an artificial rock face.
Based on the classic novel by Nobel Prize winner François Mauriac
Whatever one feels about same-sex marriage, its opponents almost always end up defending an absurd idea of marriage to make the case against same-sex union. Whether they believe in heterosexual marriage because of God or some idealistic notion of true love that leads automatically to babies, opponents of same-sex marriage almost always conveniently ignore the numerous reasons that people get married besides devotion to God or love of another person. There's money, power, and fear, all of which have been used to wed people together for generations and generations. This fact doesn't get talked about too much in polite society, but novels and films have struggled with it almost constantly. Some of our greatest literature involves exquisite portraits of poorly matched marriages, from Madame Bovary onward. One of the more famous examples is Thérèse Desqueyroux, the novel by Nobel Prize winner François Mauriac, the portrait of a social climber who gradually falls into disillusionment with her prize. It's adapted here as simply Thérèse. Despite a sparkling central performance from Audrey Tautou, the film can't quite keep from being a bit too stuffy for its own good.
Thérèse (Audrey Tautou, Dirty Pretty Things) is a young woman who marries Bernard (Gilles Lellouche, Point Blank) partly because she loves him, but also because the combined wealth of their families will give her a comfortable life. Gradually, however, Thérèse begins to resent the stifling comforts of a middle-class life and rebels.
There are two things that simply can't be taken away from Thérèse. The first is Audrey Tautou's performance. Tautou has often played quirky, lighter characters, those who have few cares in the world or who seem to live a different life from the rest of us. Thérèse brings her right down to earth. She doesn't quite start out as a naïve young woman, but there's a certain innocence about her: she thinks she's going to be okay even if she is marrying for money rather than transcendent love. Her gradual disillusionment registers on Tautou's face and manner until by the end when she's cold and closed off. It's a really excellent performance that shows Tautou's depth and range as an actress, even if it's part of a film that never quite lives up to her talents. The rest of the cast do a fine job supporting her central turn, but it's really Tautou's show from beginning to end.
The second thing that can't be taken away from Thérèse is the gorgeous look of the film. Part of the idea behind the film is that Thérèse is stifled by the life of a landowner in rural France in the 1920s. She has no connections to the major metropolis of Paris, let alone the rest of the outside world. To really sell the idea, director Claude Miller gives us loving looks at the French countryside, and it seems to glow with a nostalgic softness. The whole film has a slight tinge to it, to sell the period feel, but the countryside benefits the most from the loving, shot-on-digital look of the film. It's possible to ignore the human drama unfolding because of the gorgeous backdrop that it unfolds from.
The look of the film is only reinforced with this excellent DVD release. The film's digital origins ensure that this 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer comes from a pristine source. Detail is strong throughout, from wide landscape shots to close-ups on Tautou's conflicted face. Colors are warm and well-saturated; they're not particularly natural-looking, but that seems to be by choice. Black levels stay consistent and deep throughout as well. No compression artifacts or digital manipulation stand out to mar the image. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent as well; the French dialogue is always clean and clear, and the balance with the film's score is perfect. English subtitles are included. The film's sole extra is a trailer.
Though Thérèse is beautifully shot and well-acted throughout, it can also be a bit stifling. The film's pace is generally glacial, and the film's third act doesn't live up to the slow and careful pacing the film has constructed. Thérèse herself is a bit of an anti-heroine, so those looking to root for her will likely be disappointed. This DVD set could also benefit from some additional extras, like an interview with Tautou, or a tribute to director Claude Miller, who passed away after filming was complete.
Fans of the novel might find something to appreciate in this adaptation, and fans of Audrey Tautou will certainly be pleased by her performance here. The beauty of the film deserves at least a rental for fans of foreign art house style drama, but most viewers can safely give Thérèse a pass.
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