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'Therese' hard to embrace

  • (MPI Pictures)

The rich are different from you and me, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, sometimes nowhere more so than in French movies. In the United States, a Viking stove in the kitchen and a BMW in the driveway may be mere background noise in a sleek thriller; in France, such emblems of class privilege can be grounds for a date with the Widow (aka the guillotine), metaphorically speaking.

In "Thérèse," a 1920s woman is driven to commit a terrible crime, for all sorts of nominal reasons, though, in truth, her paramount motive is the accident of her birth: She's bourgeois.

MOVIE PREVIEW: 'Thérèse'

The movie opens in 1922 with Thérèse Desqueyroux, a 15-year-old, basking in the sun and her friendship with Anne. The southwest countryside is as appealing as the girls, who part ways after Anne says that everyone knows her brother will marry Thérèse. Six years later, and Thérèse is now played by Audrey Tautou, wearing a knit cloche and a dour expression, and walking with Anne's brother, Bernard (Gilles Lellouche), a solid citizen with a manicured mustache and gift for the self-satisfied obvious. When he takes Thérèse's face in his hands, it looks as if he could crush her, and so he does, or at least that's what the director, Claude Miller, would have you believe. (This was Miller's last movie; he died in 2012.)

Bernard's great attribute is his family's land, a pine forest that, when joined with that of Thérèse's family, will increase the wealth of both. Her appeal is substantially more elusive, partly because Tautou maintains the same sour look for much of the movie, her mouth tightly knotted.

This is a marriage of property, not passion, and on their honeymoon, Bernard proves a mechanical lover, while she plays dead, rising from her conjugal coma only when Anne (Anaïs Demoustier) shares that she has taken a lover. He's a local, Jean Azevedo (Stanley Weber), who doesn't have a mustache but whose machinery is far better oiled than Bernard's. He also looks nice with his shirt unbuttoned, name-drops André Gide and is Jewish, a non-non in this provincial land.

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