ThÉrÈse Desqueyroux - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

France, 1962

Director: Georges Franju

Production: Filmel; black and white, 35mm; running time: 109 minutes, English version is 107 minutes. Released September 1962, Paris. Filmed at Franstudio, Paris Studio Cinéma, and in Bazas, Villandraut, and Uzeste.

Producer: Eugène Lépicier; screenplay: François Mauriac, Claude Mauriac, and Georges Franju; dialogue: François Mauriac, from his book; photography: Christian Matras; editor: Gilbert Natot; sound: Jean Labussière; art director: Jacques Chalvet; music: Maurice Jarre; costume designer: Lola Prussac.

Cast: Emmanuele Riva ( Thérèse ); Philippe Noiret ( Bernard ); Edith Scob ( Anne de la Trave ); Sami Frey ( Jean Azévédo ); Jeanne Perez ( Baslionte ); Renée Devillers ( Madame Victor de la Trave ); Richard Saint-Bris ( Hector de la Trave ); Lucien Nat ( Jérôme Larroque ); Hélène Dieudonné ( Aunt Clara ); Jacques Monod ( Duros ); Jean-Jacques Rémy ( Specialist ).

Awards: Venice Film Festival, Best Actress (Riva), 1962.



Lovell, Alan, Anarchist Cinema , London, 1962; reprinted, New York, 1975.

Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946: The Personal Style , New York, 1966.

Durgnat, Raymond, Franju , Berkeley, 1968.

Vialle, Gabriel, Georges Franju , Paris, 1968.

Georges Franju: ciclo organizado pela Cinemateca Portuguesa com a alto patrocíno da Embaixada de França, em Lisboa , Lisbon, 1982.


Beylie, Claude, "Les Paradoxes de la fidelité," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1963.

Fieschi, Jean-Louis, and Andre Labarthe, "Nouvel entretien avec Georges Franju," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1963.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 28 November 1963.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), March 1965.

Price, James, "Undertones," in London Magazine , April 1965.

Milne, Tom, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1965.

Leahy, James, in Movie (London), Summer 1965.

Desch, Bernard, in Film Society Review (New York), February 1966.

"Franju Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), March 1966.

MacLochlainn, A., in Film Journal (New York), Summer 1971.

Gow, Gordon, "Franju," in Films and Filming (London), August 1971.

Barbaro, Nick, in Cinema Texas Program Notes (Austin), 27 April 1978.

Conrad, R., "Mystery and Melodrama: A Conversation with Georges Franju," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1981–82.

Conrad, Randall, "Mystery and Melodrama: A Conversation with Georges Franju," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 35, 10 March 1982.

Brown, R., "Georges Franju: Behind Closed Windows," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1983.

"Franju Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), April 1984.

* * *

The fiercely anarchic and irreligious Georges Franju might seem an improbable choice to film a novel of sin and expiation by France's leading Catholic novelist—unless in a spirit of mocking parody. Yet Thérèse Desqueyroux succeeds in being both an exceptionally faithful version of François Mauriac's novel and at the same time fully consistent with Franju's own attitudes and beliefs. Mauriac himself (who co-scripted together with Franju and Mauriac's son Claude, film critic of Le Figaro littéraire ) was delighted with the final film. With good reason: Thérèse Desqueyroux can be well considered one of the most successful fusions of cinema and literature ever produced.

Aided by Christian Matras's sombrely beautiful monochrome photography, Franju superbly captures the stifling claustrophobia that permeates the novel. Even before she is literally imprisoned by her relatives, Thérèse is trapped: by the narrow confines of her class and provincial society, by the oppressive monotony of the pine forests of the Landes, and by her own inability to communicate the confused, passionate emotions that torment her. Her only release lies in destruction. She disrupts the relationship between her sister-in-law Anne and a young Jewish intellectual, spurred by the ambiguous jealousy which she feels for each of them. And she tries to poison Bernard, her husband (a masterly portrayal of bovine complacency from Philippe Noiret), simply in order "to see in his eyes a momentary flicker of uncertainty."

Events are presented entirely through Thérèse's eyes; it is her interior monologue we hear on the soundtrack during the complex sequence of flashbacks that occupies the greater part of the film. Yet Franju, despite evident sympathy for his heroine, never palliates her stubborn self-absorption, the source of much of her suffering. As Thérèse, Emmanuele Riva gives a flawless performance as a woman destroyed by her own agonised sensibility, pacing restlessly about her house, snatching at the umpteenth cigarette, or glaring in mute fury at the back of Bernard's impassive head. Images of fire pervade the film: the conflagrations that threaten Bernard's beloved pines, the basis of his wealth; the fire that burns constantly, an ironic symbol of cosy domesticity, in the hearth of the Desqueyroux household; Thérèse's endless succession of cigarettes with which, in her captivity, she leaves burns on her bed-sheets.

Where Franju diverges from Mauriac is in the implications he draws from the events of the story—a subtle, but crucial difference. Mauriac's Thérèse must work out, through imprisonment and suffering, expiation for her sin—which is not so much attempted murder as spiritual pride. For Franju, though, Thérèse is a victim, one of the outsiders whom society cannot accommodate and therefore persecutes or destroys—the fate of many of his protagonists, from La tête contre les Murs to La faute de l'Abbé Mouret . Building on Mauriac's austere parable, Franju constructs his own humane vision: a lucid, grave and compassionate study of isolation, rich in visual metaphor, which vividly conveys the emotional turbulence beneath its cool surface. In Franju's intense, idiosyncratic, and often uneven output, Thérèse Desqueyroux stands as perhaps his finest, most fully achieved film.

—Philip Kemp

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