By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 7, 2013)
First comes love, and then comes marriage. Or does it always necessarily occur in that order? For example, according to Wikipedia, a “marriage of convenience” is defined to be
…contracted for reasons other than the reasons of relationship, family or love…such a marriage is orchestrated for personal gain or some other sort of strategic purpose.
“I’m marrying you for your pines…I’m not ashamed of that…you love my pines, too. Only natural.” That’s our eponymous Therese (Audrey Tautou) pitching woo to her fiancé, Bernard (Gilles Lellouche).
Not the most romantic basis for a pending marriage, but apparently it was the neighborly thing to do for those living on adjoining estates in the bucolic pinewoods of southwest France in 1928. “So many ideas in your head,” Bernard teases, “…like everyone, a few wrong ideas.” To which she enigmatically retorts, “It’s up to you to destroy them.” Well, you know what they say…love is a many-splintered thing.
Thus Therese embarks (no pun intended) on a new life, replete with those free-spirited “ideas” in her head. If the prospect of a provincial marriage to a narcissistic dullard who cares more about preserving family cachet than attending to his wife’s happiness or respecting her opinions sounds depressing, you would be correct.
One of the “ideas” that married life cannot “destroy” concerns Therese’s feelings toward sister-in-law Anne (Anais Demoustier), with whom she has been friends since childhood (the prologue offers a montage of idyllic summers suggesting Therese may harbor unrequited feelings for Anne).
This could explain why Therese sabotages Anne’s passion for a hunky suitor and then begins her own downward slide into a permanent sulk over her unsatisfying marriage. Eventually, she can only see one way out. Certain plot elements recall Hitchcock’s Rebecca, yet the film conveys no sense of Hitchockian suspense.
Therese is the final work by director Claude Miller (The Accompanist, Alias Betty), who died in April of 2012 at age 70. Miller co-adapted with Natalie Carter from Francois Mauriac’s 1927 novel, Therese Desqueyroux (previously filmed by Georges Franju in 1962). The novel was inspired in part by the trial of one Madame Canaby, who was tried in Bordeaux back in 1906 for attempting to poison her husband (she was acquitted, but convicted on a lesser charge of forging prescriptions).
The romanticist in me desperately wishes I could pronounce the director’s swan song as a fine piece of work, but unfortunately this film is as dull and lifeless as Therese and Bernard’s doomed marriage. The locale is lovely, the cast gives it their best shot, but the film is undermined by one too many dangling narrative threads…leaving the viewer unable to see the forest for the trees.