“Don’t you think that a life like ours already feels a lot like death?”
A woman (Emmanuelle Riva) accused of attempting to poison her wealthy husband (Philippe Noiret) reflects upon her unhappy marriage as she leaves prison; once she arrives home, vengeful Noiret refuses to divorce her but is determined to make her life miserable.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Downward Spiral
- French Films
- Flashback Films
- Georges Franju Films
- Homicidal Spouses
- Marital Problems
Georges Franju is most famous for directing the 1960 horror masterpiece Eyes Without a Face; this film (made just two years later) shares some of its predecessor’s thematic interests (a woman is forcibly isolated in her own home by a powerful man), but ultimately lacks both its compelling horror trajectory and its sense of dark humor. Indeed, the deadly serious Therese (based on a 1927 novel by Francois Mauriac) is resolutely bleak, and — despite a voiceover meant to fill us in on the details of Riva’s unhappy marriage before she attempts to murder her pompous husband — her titular protagonist remains a true feminist enigma throughout. At first, it seems that Therese married her husband simply as a veiled proxy to be near his lovely young sister (Edith Scob) — but this vaguely titillating suggestion is never developed. Instead, we come to accept that she simply made a dreadful mistake in marrying Bernard (whose socially acceptable family name she craved on some level), and has compounded this mistake by stupidly trying to murder him. The remainder of the film — as Therese becomes a virtual prisoner in her own house, resorting to simply smoking and drinking in bed — is too depressing for words. Fortunately, the film’s evocative visuals, fine central performances (Noiret is particularly good in a decidedly unsympathetic role), and memorable score by Maurice Jarre all help to make up for its downer storyline (which is apparently faithful to its source material).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Emmanuelle Riva as Therese (she won a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her work here)
- Phillipe Noiret as Bernard
- Raymond Heil and Christian Matras’ cinematography
- Maurice Jarre’s lilting, haunting score
No, but it’s certainly worth a look if you can locate a copy.