Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thérèse

Oh, ennui! Where would French films be without it! Well, this movie'd be absolutely nowheresville. What movie, you ask? Well, the original title was Thérèse Desqueyroux, being the main character's last name, but by the time it got to us, the last name had been dropped, and only the accute and grave accents remained: Thérèse.

I will not be honoring those accents for the rest of this post, however. Honestly, hard as I tried, I could not hear anything resembling "Theresa" when the characters spoke. Not "Teresa" or "Teraysa" or "Teress" or even "Tere". The nearest I could approximate the pronunciation was something like "T" followed by the sound of rolling your tongue out of your mouth, like "T-huwaaa".

What's it about? Well, remember the beautiful, charming, quirky but adorable Audrey Tatou from Amelie? Yeah, she's dead now. In her place is a 37-year-old woman who probably smokes too many Gaulois and isn't entirely convincing as a 19-year-old. (Not to be catty but, as well documented here, I'm generally a fan of aging French actresses.)

Well, look, she's an actress. And this character is the anti-Amelie: A woman who, for no apparent reason, indifferently marries a man for the good of their families. (Both families are wealthy with—and no, I don't get this—acres of pine.)

All is well and good until her younger sister-in-law discovers love. Not really love, but some pretty intense lust. Thérèse (I lied, "Thérèse" is still in my copy-paste buffer, so I'll use it for a while longer) is affected by observing this relationship, apparently never having experienced lust before.

When I say "affected", I mean she decides to kill her husband.

The trailers set this up kind-of Anna Karenina style, with an abusive, domineering husband who drives his poor wife to drastic deeds but, no, in fact while perhaps being a bit of a boor, a rube, an unimaginative sort who's more physical than the modern man, he's not really a bad guy.

As the movie wears on, he sort of begins to take on the character of a clueless saint.

Whereas Therese is probably best described as a sociopath. Even that's not quite right, though. It's that she has a blunt or flat affect. There's no malice apparent, even when she's trying to kill her husband (in a truly awful way).

So. Yeah. The movie has basically set us up for a series of events which have an arc, but which have no purpose or meaning. We can't ever find out Therese's motivation, because she doesn't know it. She doesn't even seem to have one, really.

This is the last film of French director Claude Miller, though not regarded as one of his better films, it certainly shows skill and a sure hand. It avoids feeling completely flat by letting the characters grow and change, even if it is swamped in a near nihilism. The ending is almost upbeat, sorta. It's not as bleak as one might expect from a movie that is otherwise pretty damn bleak.

The Boy was unimpressed, though he has an appreciation for French ennui and so did not hate it.

Tatou, in the final analysis, is quite good, even if she doesn't look at all 19. Gilles Lellouche (Point Blank) also has a nice turn as the loutish husband.

Still, it's weird to look at such a heavy drama and think, "Did she not know anything? Was there no way of finding out about the rest of the world and life and potential experiences? Could this drama have all been avoided with an issue of Cosmo?"

That was kind of the feeling I had, though.

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