My silly crush on Audrey Tautou continues to lead me down unlikely filmic paths: Thérèse (2012) is the latest, and it’s an attractive, stately, and depressing tale of a woman trapped by circumstance. Set in provincial France in the late 1920s, the film stars Tautou as Thérèse, a chain-smoking malcontent who enters into an arranged marriage to unify two wealthy families, hoping it will “cure” her of her different-thinking ways. Unfortunately, her husband Bernard (Gilles Lellouche) is a narrow-minded lout, who – along with everyone else – expects Thérèse to tow the family line and agree with its every status-minded decision. No, the marriage does not “cure” Thérèse: in fact, it sends her slowly, methodically over the edge.
Thérèse is a mostly cheerless but quite effective tale of a woman whose emotions are ahead of their time, even if her intellect is not. Thérèse doesn’t know what she wants, only what she doesn’t want – which happens to be what everyone expects of her. Her stultifying plight is tragic, and Tautou’s understated performance sells it powerfully. Lellouche does a fine job as the husband, a character who both deserves and doesn’t deserve what happens to him: his character’s transformation is a nuanced and interesting one, making him less cardboard villain than hapless by-product of his era. This is not a pleasant watch, or a bracing one, but it’s well made for its type.