Francois Mauriac's 1927 novel about a wealthy woman's unhappiness and frustration has been called one of the 100 best French novels. Claude Miller, in his last film, brought this literary classic to the screen with stylized grace and beauty. Audrey Tautou plays the lead character whose sharp mind is always active behind her arrogant and aloof manner. A kindred spirit to Madame Bovery and Anna Karenina, she tries to break free of a passionless and tedious marriage.
Therese (Audrey Tautou) comes from a well-to-do Catholic family that owns a very large amount of property. In her teens, she marries Bernard (Gilles Lellouche) who also is very rich. Together their pinewood estates are of inestimable value. He is a chauvinist whose main interests are hunting, maintaining his family's positive image, and having a son. When his younger sister Anne (Anais Demoustier) falls in love with a Portuguese outsider who also happens to be a Jew, Bernard and his mother do everything they can to break up the relationship.
Anne is Therese's best friend, and there is a sexual attraction between them that neither is able or willing to act upon. This is vividly conveyed in a scene in which the two adolescents are lying together in a boat floating on a quiet lake; it is a magic moment of shared intimacy. After meeting the handsome Portuguese sailor, Anne describes the delights of their romantic relationship in letters to her friend.
For Therese, reading these missives only accentuates the lack of passion in her own life, bringing on a deep sadness over what she has been missing in her dead-in-the-water marriage. When Bernard calls upon Therese to convince Anne to break off the affair and planned wedding, she plunges even deeper into depression over the emptiness of her own situation.
Claude Miller, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Natalie Carter, has fashioned a well-done drama about a wealthy Catholic woman who struggles to find a way out of her tedious marriage into a life of her own creation. Her path to freedom causes a family scandal and separation from her infant daughter. Even Anne turns against her on the last leg of the journey toward independence.
Audrey Tautou's impressive performance as Therese perfectly matches the character's cerebral nature as she waits patiently for Bernard's words of liberation: "You're on your own."
Screened at the Rendev-Vous with French Cinema 2013, Film Society of Lincoln Center, NY.