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Therese Desqueyroux [DVD] 
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1926: In the French region of Landes, near Bordeaux, marriages are arranged to merge property and unite neighbouring families. Thus, young Therese Larroque becomes Madame Desqueyroux. However, her avant-garde ideas soon clash with local conventions and her domineering husband, and in order to break free from the fate imposed upon her she will resort to tragically extreme measures.
Starring AUDREY TAUTOU (Amelie, Coco Before Chanel, Delicacy) and Gilles Lellouche (Point Blank, Little White Lies).
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This first half of the book is a bit by bit reconstruction of the character's youth and the events leading up to the poisoning, all mixed up with scraps of the court case as if written on torn-up pieces of paper carried on the wind ... The provincial setting is banal in terms of the people who inhabit it, but Mauriac has big spiritual ambitions for his heroine and the possibility of mercy for her. Claude Miller throws this overboard for a rather watered-down poisoning that you might almost miss, it is over so fast. However the sight of Bernard vomiting makes it clear why this had to be kept brief. Therese's emprisonment is shown with none of the extremity of the book, where she practically smokes herself to death. In the film, you are more likely to think what a nice day it is, or how lovely the sunlight looks on the rather too opulent porch. Surprisingly, Miller uses the same Rossini music as he used to far greater effect in La Classe De Neige (Class Trip), mixed with some distorting arrangement of Schubert (actually the same piece as used by Louis Malle in Au Revoir Les Enfants). Both these choices seem odd ... It is not a boring film to sit through, but it hardly does justice to the intensity of the source text, which is infinitely more recommendable, and transcends its bleakness, so it would be a mistake to be put off by the subject.
To appreciate the story fully, one has to understand the culture of the Landes region around Bordeaux in the early C20, in which prosperous families were preoccupied with their acres of pine forest, contracting marriage with each other to consolidate their wealth and at all costs maintaining their respectability and status.
Thérèse sleepwalks into a stultifying relationship with the forceful and macho Bernard. When his sister, supposedly her best friend, falls in love with an "unsuitable" young man, is Thérèse's failure to support her the result of pressure to be a dutiful wife, or due to less forgivable envy?
Although she is clearly caught in an uneviable position, it is hard to empathise with the chain-smoking, uncommunicative, hard to read, Thérèse. I believe that Mauriac writes a good deal about the "masks" that people assume, but Thérèse is mostly so unemotional on the surface as to seem wooden, inhuman at times. I came to the conclusion that Audrey Tautou, although a beautiful and talented actress, is miscast here. The part needs to be played by a younger actress who comes across more convincingly as inexperienced and malleable, yet unpredictable.
As the plot darkens, some of the details are annoyingly unclear, but the story is unusual in taking an unexpected direction as it moves to a rather inconclusive ending. Beautifully shot and well-acted, it left me feeling unsatisfied, and I don't know whether to blame Mauriac or the director.
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