BUST was lucky enough to speak to Audrey Tautou, star of Amélie and Coco Before Chanel, about her upcoming film, Thérèse, due out stateside tomorrow, Friday, August 23rd.
Based on the novel by François Mauriac, Thérèse tells the story of a 1920s French wife, played by Audrey Tautou, who becomes bored with her new life, husband, and family. Helmed by the late director Claude Miller, the film explores what marriage and the individual self in that time period meant to society, and to Thérèse.
Her marriage is, at its surface, a business transaction: her family owns a large portion of the wooded pines in her village, and her husband-to-be, Bernard (Gilles Lellouche), has the adjacent portion. As a couple, they merge their properties and their lives, without knowing how they would fit together. There is no doubt that Thérèse has to marry Bernard, says Tautou in our interview. “This is clear for her. And there’s so many other things which are not clear in her head, but this thing is clear. That’s the only thing she’s sure about.”
When Anne—Thérèse’s best friend and sister-in-law—divulges her sultry and socially unacceptable affair with Jean, a poetic deep soul who lives in a hut along the water, the story really begins. “It’s the beginning of a bouleversant, an earthquake,” explains Anne Miller, the director’s widow. Knowledge of the affair opens Thérèse’s eyes to something beyond the practicalities of the life in which she’s immersed. She realizes her unhappiness and wants some sort of escape, though society wouldn’t necessarily allow it. “She doesn’t want Bernard because she’s jealous of this love,” Miller says.
Armed with this new information, Thérèse becomes introverted and distant from her surroundings. At one point in the film, as a massive fire rages around the properties and everyone is running around her in panic, she is calmly sitting at the kitchen table, cracking nuts. “She doesn’t behave with them, she stops playing the part, but she is still an audience to their show. She’s outside of the scene,” Tautou says. “She has her own rhythm.”
To get into Thérèse’s mindset, Tautou decided to write out Thérèse’s inner monologue along the side of her script; she learned both her lines and this unspoken dialogue simultaneously. “Thérèse is convinced that, first, nobody would listen to her,” says Tautou, “and secondly, nobody would understand her. So it’s hopeless. She’s a woman who’s against compromise, and that’s her honesty, which is a weakness in this society. She has a lot of integrity.”
“Nowadays, it’s too easy to separate,” Miller says, when asked about marriage today. “To be with a person, it’s work. I am not against marriage because you are the same culture, the same humor. It’s important because, love at first sight, it’s just two or three years, and after, you have to have stability, of what you think, of what you resent, of the same humor. It’s better if you are in love with this person.”
Thérèse opens in limited release on Friday, August 23rd.