Thérèse is the story of a woman stuck in a provincial life. She agrees to a marriage of convenience with her neighbor’s son, Bernard, a marriage which will unite the pine forests of both families. But it doesn’t satisfy her, doesn’t keep her from wanting more excitement and fulfillment out of life. Her sister-in-law and best friend, Anne, soon falls in love with a man her parents consider to be an inappropriate match. Anne’s passionate relationship only highlights the lack of passion in Thérèse’s. As the months and years go by, Thérèse’s depression deepens, eventually driving her to unforgiveable acts.
I read an article on NPR last week about the French film Violette and the likeability of protagonists, which is a subject of much interest to me. It’s worth looking at characters who are unapologetic for their imperfections. While Thérèse’s story is an intriguing one, I found myself more drawn to Bernard and Anne. Bernard seems slightly cartoonish through Thérèse’s eyes, always hunting and counting aloud when he puts his medicine in his water. But hard circumstances bring out his true character, which is compassionate and forgiving.
The problem with Thérèse, though, is it takes great care in depicting Thérèse’s actions without dwelling much on her motivations. She makes decisions that don’t entirely make sense and can’t always be chalked up to unhappiness. For instance, her friendship with Anne is an important one, but when Anne begs for help regarding Jean, Thérèse instead influences Jean to end the relationship via letter. She doesn’t do it to help Anne or to preserve the family honor, but neither is it clear that she does it out of jealousy. I thought the relationship between Thérèse and Anne would be much more important, but it falls by the wayside to allow the movie to focus on Thérèse’s depression. All in all, it was a surprising, beautiful film.