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"Therese"

The image I carry away from this French psychological drama is Audrey Tautou's grim, unscrutible face as she plays a woman whose motivations are as unfathomable as they are enigmatically wicked.

The story has the flavor of many a French film that justifies itself by doting on its homegrown literature, in this case, Francois Mauriac's 1927 novel that centers on a potential murderess within the strata of 1929 social classes of the provinces.

Therese Larroque, (Tautou, "The Da Vinci Code." "A Very Long Engagement") as a girl of fifteen, faced the probability of marriage to her girlfriend Anne de la Trave's (Matilda Marty-Giraut) brother Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lellouche, "Pointblank"). But as that doesn't appear to be a problem, she worries about herself because of the constant jumble of "ideas" in her head that she can't control. She feels unanchored, someone searching for who she is or wants to be.

Years later, she does marry Bernard, adding her acres of pine trees to his greater number of them, a metric of wealth and importance. The wealthy get wealthier and all is well.

Except that it isn't.

From the start, there's an unspoken and unrecognized gulf between them, Bernard being fully in love, naturally forgiving and of a nature to see everything through a gauze of positivity. But what we see coming from her is the hope that the alliance with a man who always knows what he wants to do, and why, will calm and channel her overactive mind. She's proud, also, to be a Desqueyroux.

Bernard takes ill and his doctor prescribes a liquid medicine which he takes as 5 drops in a glass of water several times a day. It keeps him feeling well but the dosage is critical. Too much could make it poisonous.

Anne becomes enamored of Jean Azevedo (Stanley Weber), a neighbor they've seen sailing along the shoreline of the beach for years. Alarmed at this as an unwelcome pairing, largely because Azevedo is a Jew, the despairing family, who have little regard or respect for Therese, put that aside knowing that she's the only one Anne will talk to.

Soon, Therese realizes that Anne is virtually lost in her first discovery of love, Therese decides she must meet her paramour. What she finds is an attractive, intelligent man who connects with her on her level and becomes a muse of sorts. Azevedo is, perhaps, the kind of person she should have married.

Director and co-writer Claude Miller ("A Secret") establishes the deliberate pace of a slow-moving train which comes close to becoming a still life. In fact, there's always time for the gorgeous still life of the pine-filled Landes region countryside in which these people live out their lives in grandeur and comfort. We sense the calm, the beauty, the quiet stateliness. And, the setting for Bernard's favorite pastime: bird shooting, which may deliver a meal for his family of privilege but no particular excitement or drama.

On these grounds, no untoward expression of emotion, ambition or danger lives. Until, that is, the flood of ideas in Miller's protagonist's mind leads to an act that exposes what she's kept bottled up for a very long time. With her act, she sets forth a tsunami in the calm waters between the wealthy clans. After a long period of silent routine, the tale is no longer a meditation on a one-sided, loveless life.

The pervading shadowiness of Gerard de Battista's ("A Matter of Taste") masterful cinematography contributes greatly to the grimness of the stoic personalities inhabiting the tale.

While it may seem (and it does) that Miller was making a film in a retro style, it was of his age and milieu. "Therese" reminds us that slow character evolution, as a way to allow suppressed psychoses to assert themselves and become drama, is not exactly a lost art but you've got to love the style to appreciate it. It's like watching a slow-burning fuse approach a bomb of psychotic suppression. You don't know what kind of destruction will result, or its consequences, but you semse its inevitability.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Audrey Tautou as Therese Desqueyroux
Harboring too many thoughts and ideas to put in order.

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