Wednesday, August 21, 2013

THÉRÈSE: Claude Miller's final film is one of his best, with a splendid Tautou & Lellouche

The late Claude Miller (1942-2012) was not a "dark" filmmaker, though he never made life look simple nor easy. Don't try to find villains in Miller's movies: The vicissitudes of life, along with nature and nurture, make for perfectly fine stand-ins. In one (among many) of his "bests," Class Trip, a young boy discovers that his father is a serial killer; in a more recent one, the excellent Holocaust film A Secret, jealousy, disappoint-ment and depression allow a mother to sacrifice her son and herself to the Nazis. The problems and results of parenting, birth and adopted, take their toll in the remarkable I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive. Now we have THÉRÈSE, Miller's final film (the writer/director is shown below), adapted from the novel by François Mauriac, and from the resulting adaptation, it appears that this Miller/Mauriac match was made in movie heaven.

If there is a villain here, it is the society of 1920s rural France itself, with its strictures regarding sex and class, in which a smart woman must either sacrifice herself for and to her husband or, as in the case of our young Thérèse -- played by Audrey Tautou, below, in very fine form, if already (so soon!?) a bit too old for this role -- go a little crazy in her quest for autonomy. Don't let the age thing bother you much, however; in all other regards, Ms Tautou nails the role. By the end of this memorable film, you understand Thérèse as you would your own daughter (if you've been paying attention to your daughter, that is) and despite everything you've seen here, you'll root for her something fierce.

In the role of Thérèse's husband, Bernard, is a fine French actor who continues to show off his rather remarkable range: Gilles Lellouche. From thriller heroes (Point Blank) to comedic characters (My Piece of the Pie to rom-coms (Little White Lies), this guy has grown from small-role character actor to versatile leading man.

As M. Desqueyroux, Lellouche expertly captures everything from the particular country-style haute bourgeoise class to the post-WWI time period. His final scene in the film is both heartbreaking and ironic: If only Bernard had been able to learn and grow a bit sooner, how different things might have been.

Miller captures the period, as well as the particularly stifling rural life especially well, and his supporting cast shines, too: Anais Demoustier (above, left), as Bernard's half-sister; Catherine Arditi (above, right), as her mother; and Francis Perrin as Thérèse's father.

So far as I know, M. Miller, who is perhaps best noted re his career as the filmmaker mentored by Francois Truffaut, has never been given a retrospective here in New York by the FSLC, where many of his films made their New York debut. A retrospective is long overdue, as writer/director/adapter Miller, in my estimation, had surpassed his mentor in many ways. Perhaps now that he has left us, we'll see one at last.

Meanwhile, Thérèse, via MPI Pictures and running 110 minutes, opens this Friday, August 23, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and  the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Royal, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7. Other playdates around the country are in the offing, as well.

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