The last film from literary-oriented writer/director Claude Miller is, appropriately enough, taken from a French novel by Nobel Laureate François Mauriac. A tale of social conventions, emotional constraints & stoppered passion, it plays like a cross between Ibsen & Claude Chabrol, with Audrey Tatou holding back her acting range as the rich, likely bride to her best friend’s older brother. Conjoined, the family lands will cover the county. A cool, distanced formality defines the couple (he hunts; she smokes), but their pattern is upset when the sister-in-law discovers passion with a rich, but inappropriate young man. Charged with stopping things before they start, Thérèse does the family honor proud, but finds herself redefined in ways she can’t recognize or admit to. And then her thoughts take a deadly turn. Miller allows the story to wander naturalistically, without the sort of reverses or payoffs implied, holding the narrative close to countryside and customs. And if ‘well handled’ makes it sound a bit dull, so be it. Perhaps the 1962 Georges Franju version (not seen here), told in flashback from Thérèse’s trial, gets more of a pulse by letting us see things play out in perspective.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Tatou may be too controlled here, confusing ‘holding out’ with ‘holding back.’ The role and the film in some ways recall the trio of films William Wyler did with Bette Davis, particularly THE LITTLE FOXES/’41, another loveless all-in-the-family drama with mariticial tendencies. And while Tatou is more subtle & realistic than Davis, she’s ultimately far less entertaining and (shh) less memorable.