Thérèse (2012)

It has been a while since I first saw Thérèse, French director Claude Miller’s final film. Upon seeing it, I made the decision to sit on putting together my reaction piece, for I felt almost certain that Thérèse was destined to get even the most limited theatrical run here in the States for the following three reasons:

  1. It’s French
  2. It was an ‘Official Selection’ of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival
  3. It stars Audrey Tautou


Audrey Tautou assumes the eponymous role, itself sourced from the 1927 novel (titled Thérèse Desqueyroux) written by François Mauriac. Interestingly enough,  Thérèse was previously adapted in 1962. But I digress– we are here to talk about the most recent version. So, without further ado, WHAT exactly is this film about?

Well, here you go (via the official synopsis):

Thérèse is a heroine from the same school as other literary heroines, such as Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. Married less for love than for convenience, Thérèse feels suffocated by her marriage to Bernard (Gilles Lellouche). Although she is afforded a comfortable country life, she soon grows tired and her frustrations sets her mind in motion. This desire to break free is exacerbated by the arrival of Thérèse’s best friend Anne and Bernard’s sister (Anaïs Demoustier), who promptly falls madly in love with a handsome young Portuguese man who is deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the family. Anne’s simmering passion makes Thérèse feel like she is missing out on something in her life. She sees Anne’s passion leads her to go to any length to keep her lover by her side. Soon, Thérèse begins her own fight against the oppressive Desqueyroux family.

Wow! That surely is a mouthful – Anna Karenina and/or Madame Bovary?

As for my own reaction? I have not read the source material so I may lose a little of the story’s context. But from what I am able to synthesize from the film is that thematically, there is a common idea that all of these ‘heroines’ in their own way, are trying to challenge the status quo and rise above their repressive, provincial lives. I don’t think I am spoiling anything for my readers to say that in end, in all these examples, unfortunately, circumstances do not end well for the protagonist and they are left to pay for their insolence.

Looking at the film in terms of its complete execution, let me just say this – while the performances were all well-played, I left the screening with an overwhelming cold response, lacking any emotion. I can only hope to assume that in part, this is what the director Claude Miller was going for – to create a stolid world in so much allowing us, the audience to feel what the titular character feels, and in turn, evoking a sympathetic response so we understand and possibly forgive the lengths Thérèse goes to break free from her imprisonment. I cannot even say I felt ANY response to her actions (either positive or negative), I just felt like wow, that sure is crazy to both her actions and the subsequent fallout including the film’s conclusion. Again, this reaction is based solely on how I feel the film has presented the narrative. I have a feeling that the source material would go a long ways in getting me to a point of at least understanding Thérèse’s plight. Like I said, in the end, my reaction and response will always circle back ’round to the barren cold feeling that jumped off the screen while I was watching the film.

On a positive note, the film’s primary setting of south west France looks absolutely lovely.

Thérèse opens in cinemas today (23 August).

La Délicatasse (Delicacy), 2012: A French Confection

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the film La Délicatasse (Delicacy) at the new, 20 seat Screening Room of The Picture House. All I can saw is wow! I want this setup in the “home cinema of my mind.”

This film is all about moving on and tells the story of Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) and her (in)ability to move on from the loss of her beloved husband. As is my experience with French cinema, this is not handled in the most straightforward of fashion. There are unreal transitions into the imagination – some used to compress time while others are established as a means of reflection. In addition, there were a lot more lighthearted moments that I expected, especially given the subject matter.

While I would not place myself in the category of Tautou fan-girl, this film provided further evidence to me what her appeal is. I say this in a non-pejorative tone – she embodies all that I envision as being quintessentially French. I was fixated to the screen, in particular wondering where I could find those cute shoes she wears in the film.

But I digress – among the things I liked about the film were the acting, lead by Ms. Tautou and the music – it was wonderfully integrated into the scenes to reflect the mood and action happening onscreen.

While unconventionality of how (and with whom) she has decided to move on is very clichéd, it is handled in such a manner that it did not detract from my enjoyment at watching the film.

So if you like your tragedy served with moments of humor, whimsy and a lot of French, then this is the film for you.

The film is directed by David Foenkinos, Stephane Foenkinos with a screenplay by David Foenkinos, based on his novel.

Tuesday’s Overlooked: Coco Avant Chanel (2009)

Continuing with my French-themed posts for the week, I present Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) as part of Todd Mason’s ongoing Overlooked Films blogging series. Be sure to visit his site for more interesting titles.

As the title suggests, Coco Avant Chanel is the story about the early years of the iconic designer (played by Audrey Tautou), from Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s humble beginnings in a Catholic orphanage to her transformation as a steely and creative force who would soon take the fashion world by storm. The film frames the story principally through her affairs with Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde) and Englishman Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel (Alessandro Nivola), who would turn out to be the first great love of her life.

‘Boy,’ as he was known, is largely credited with being the great source of influence for what would later become trademarks of the Chanel design house. As their relationship takes one final, tragic turn, the film stops, summarizing her later accomplishments, with no mention of any additional dalliances or her allegedly dubious activities during the Second World War.

For me, Audrey Tautou is pleasant screen presence; here she replaces the ebullient charms that many fell in love with in Amelie to create the portrait of a determined, creative force. Although I have not seen her in as many films as I should have, I can see why she is such a popular actress in her native France.

For fans of fashion, Coco Avant Chanel offers an interesting insight into the times and influences of Chanel and how she revolutionized women’s attire as a consequence. Where it may leave some fashionistas disappointed is that it features very few of the actual designer’s clothes, etc. throughout (after all this is Gabrielle/Coco BEFORE she is Chanel, remember). But if you are patient, there is a little payoff by the end of the film.

If there is something to be said not in the film’s favor, it does suffer from moments where pacing is an issue. In other words, there are drawn out moments that do not necessarily aid in the advancement of the story and appear to be there just to be there. Still, as a form of home entertainment, you should forgive the film its sins and simply enjoy.

Additional Notes:

  • Coco Avant Chanel is co-written by director Anne Fontaine and screenwriter Camille Fontaine, with an assist from playwright Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses – play and film, screenplay for Atonement). The story is based on the Chanel biography L’Irrégulière (The Nonconformist) by Edmonde Charles-Roux.
  • Karl Lagerfeld, current head designer and creative director of Chanel, oversaw the re-creation of costumes and accessories for the film.
  • Coco Avant Chanel received one Academy Award nomination (Costume Design), four BAFTA nods, including one for Best Actress and total of six César Awards (the French Academy).

Photos source: Sony Pictures Classics