Although Audrey Tautou has played the romantic lead countless times, the “Amélie” and “The Da Vinci Code” actress takes on a more tragic role in the late Claude Miller’s final film, “Thérèse,” bringing to life a character that recalls Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Emma Bovary.
Based on François Mauriac’s novel of the same name, “Thérèse” stars Tautou as a bright and thoughtful young woman who marries her best friend Anne’s older brother. The arrangement is more of a business decision than a union of souls, and Thérèse becomes trapped by domestic ennui.
“Thérèse is trapped in a marriage which is not the right one for her, and this marriage imprisons her in a life she doesn’t want and that she isn’t formatted for,” Tautou said in an interview.
“My head is too full of ideas,” Thérèse says early in the film. The problem is only exacerbated by the cultural stagnation of rural France and her marriage to a man whose tendencies are nowhere near as radical as her own. Tautou conveys Thérèse’s subversive nature and alienation from those around her. Throughout the film, Tautou’s eyes betray Thérèse’s longing for a very different life.
Tautou said she admires Miller’s interpretation of the novel.
“I think it’s a very faithful adaptation, with the modernity of Claude Miller’s vision,” Tautou said. “He changed the narration in the movie—he didn’t use flashbacks. He thought that to be close to the characters—to be empathetic with Thérèse—it was interesting to follow her from the beginning of her journey to the end.”
The focus on the character development emphasizes the film’s powerful message.
“I think this movie ... really has everything Claude shared in his cinema—his really intimate look at a character, this absence of judgment, the complexity of human nature,” Tautou said. Miller wanted to communicate “this hate for stupid conventions” and “how society judges people only because they’re different.”
According to Tautou, Thérèse’s forced separation from her child by her husband’s family is the consummate example of inhibiting social conventions.
“They think she may be dangerous to her,” Tautou said. “It’s terrible proof of how this family will never understand Thérèse.”
Every relationship in the movie—from Thérèse and Anne’s, to Anne and her lover’s, and even Thérèse and her daughter’s—is ruined by the immense social pressures that weigh on the spirited Thérèse. As Thérèse is continually denied the emotionally rich and uninhibited life that she desires, destruction becomes her instinct. Miller suggests that certain sacrifices—like Thérèse’s happiness—should not be made, and only lead to disastrous consequences.
“She will never know what it is, what it looks like, to be in love,” Tautou said.
“Thérèse” is playing at the Angelika Film Center and Café, 18 W. Houston St., at Mercer St. (1 to Houston St.).