French Girl in Seattle reviews “Thérèse Desqueyroux” (Seattle International Film Festival – Part III)

How ironic. This week, I had to drive to “the city,” to watch a movie about a woman who led a boring [French] provincial life…
You may not realize this, but it takes at least 45 minutes to reach downtown Seattle from my neck of the [suburban] woods.
On Thursday evening, I programmed my car’s GPS so I would find the old-fashioned movie theater where the Seattle International Film Festival was showing Thérèse Desqueyroux.
When I arrived, I did not recognize the neighborhood; or the old-fashioned Harvard Exit theater where the show was playing. I can tell you no theaters in my neighborhood look this cool: Built in 1925 as a clubhouse, the Harvard Exit still boasts a cozy lobby, complete with a grand piano, a fireplace and a big chandelier. 

No giant parking lot? No neon lights? Are you sure this is a theatre?

But I am getting ahead of myself.
Even though I was wearing [proudly] my Festival Press pass, I stood in line with the rest of the small crowd. Nobody can say fame has gone to this French Girl’s head!
I am glad I did. I had an interesting conversation with some locals. It’s easy to do in the U.S. where people are friendly, and within minutes, smile; engage you; and tell you their life’ stories (whether you want to hear them or not…) 

It went something like this:
Stranger 1 to me: 
Cool Pass. (reading the pass:) French Girl in Seattle. You know, you do not have to line up with us. You can go straight in.
French Girl in Seattle (looking around admiringly:) 
This is a très cool neighborhood, and building. I don’t recognize it. Where are we exactly?
Stranger 1 (a little surprised,) to me:
This is Capitol Hill, of course. (Ed: a well-known, edgy Seattle neighborhood.) 
French Girl in Seattle (genuinely shocked:) 
Really? I would not have guessed. I don’t cross the bridge very often. I live on the Eastside (Ed: Seattle’s high tech and “posh” neighbor, across Lake Washington.) 
Stranger 1 (smiling sadly:)
Sorry. Really
Stranger 2 (jumping into the conversation:)
We call the Eastside “the Dark Side.” 
Ouch. But I remembered les Parisiens do the same thing when they describe the rest of France as “la Province…” 
I bid my new friends Au revoir and, passing the line (I am French, after all,) I went in and flashed my Press pass. (I do this all the time; Cannes; Sundance; the Academy Awards…) 

Shhhhh… The Show is about to start…


But I digress. I am here to tell you about the Claude Miller movie, Thérèse Desqueyroux.

By the way, that is pronounced day-ss-kay-roo

You’re welcome.

Thérèse Desqueyroux was the last movie of the prolific French director. He died in 2012 a few weeks before his actors walked the prestigious Cannes red carpet on the Festival’s closing night.

Thérèse Desqueyroux is a pretty faithful adaptation of a French literature classic, written by François Mauriac in 1927. The story takes place in the beautiful Landes region, outside of Bordeaux, an area well known for its vast pine forests.

Monsieur et Madame Desqueyroux…

The movie tells the story of a modern, free-spirited woman, unhappily married to a catholic landowner, heir to a large pine forest. He is a dull and serious man; attached to tradition and his bourgeois lifestyle, who never understands Thérèse or her aspirations.

Thérèse’s ennui, her dutiful life in a marriage of convenience, are masterfully captured by Miller who succeeds at depicting her claustrophobic existence in the dark, cold provincial family mansion. This is not a cheerful movie. 

Thérèse: Poster child for the bored, dissatisfied housewives…

No ladies, not all French provincial homes are bright and romantic
and decorated in the Shabby Chic style…

An emotional prisoner, Thérèse will be led to extreme measures to try and escape social pressures and a life of frustration and compromises. She will pay a high price, imposed by her family, before she can ultimately escape her dreary life in jazz age Paris.

Thérèse, scheming…

The movie is sombre and gloomy, like the Desqueyroux‘ mansion, but in the movie’s title role, Audrey Tautou, of Amélie fame, shines. Tautou has mostly stuck to comedic roles in recent years, and this is her chance to show some range as an actress. She says little, but her dark, soulful eyes (often filmed at close range by Claude Miller,) successfully express her inner torment. 

We feel for Thérèse, who yearns for another life, but she is a complex character, who does not always come across as likeable. There is no happy ending in this story, and the last shot is, at the very least, ambiguous.

Writing a review for Thérèse Desqueyroux is tricky. I know this one won’t be as much of a *sure thing* as the other two films I reviewed. So, I thought I would do the following. Then you can decide if Claude Miller‘s movie is for you.

Thérèse Desqueyroux: See it if…

  • You obsess over old country French estates. 
  • You love Audrey Tautou and want to see if she has the chops for more dramatic roles.
  • You have seen enough fast-paced, loud, action movies recently, merci beaucoup.

Thérèse Desqueyroux: Skip it if…

  • You have always hated the isolation of the countryside.
  • You think all French movies are either too chatty, or too slow.
  • You have been feeling low lately… 

C’est tout, les amis. A bientôt.

Thérèse Desqueyroux
Claude Miller, 2012
Limited national release date:
August 23, 2013

Movie trailer:

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Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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