It’s a blessing Audrey Tautou is so infinitely watchable because this leaden-paced period piece comes close to buckling under its own misery. Tautou, as the title character Therese, forges a successful match with the wealthy next-door neighbour – when success means combining their respective land holdings and ensuring the newlyweds can comfortably sit around smoking in country manors looking flapping gorgeous.
But riches aren’t enough to keep this pre-feminist amused. Listless and irked, Therese becomes progressively more sour-faced as she finds herself stifled by the mores of 1920s society. Yet (frustratingly) she’s no firebrand heroine. Her largely conformist choices make it tricky to empathise with her situation – particularly when she gets to gad about in such an exquisite wardrobe.
Veteran French director Claude Miller, helming his last film before his death, plods chronologically through the pages of his literary source so that when it finally arrives, even the criminal turning point passes ponderously. The real story arc is Therese’s internal descent into depression as the optimism of her youth ebbs away. Miller expertly reimagines a glamorous past era and ethereal Tautou brings a divine ghostliness to Therese’s disintegration but in the end the watch feels as flat and repressive as Therese’s life.