The making and remaking of Thérèse Desqueyroux

One novel, two films

in French literature on screen
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Before considering the two film adaptations of François Mauriac’s novel Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927) and because it stands as a fulcrum of so many narrating voices, themselves constructed out of obsession, desire, repression, suffocation and a sense of futility, it behoves us to lift the layers away one by one, as one would uncover a palimpsest, to understand these meanings, first, before proceeding further. There have been two film adaptations of Thérèse Desqueyroux; one in 1962 by Georges Franju, in which the script was co-authored between the director and Mauriac; the second, in 2012, by Claude Miller in which the script was co-authored between director and Natalie Carter (who had already written two other adaptations with Miller). The lack of mystery and ambiguity surrounding Miller’s interpretation of Thérèse’s character is undoubtedly the weakness of his film. His simplification of the narrative (going from light to darkness as he put it) meant that he also reduced his other characters to two-dimensions. Anne in this instance is yet another clear example. Mauriac’s Anne, as Thérèse, is an unruly female; not, as Miller’s version would have us believe, one who belongs to ‘la race implacable des simples’. She will become so, because the family eventually wins the struggle and she marries Deghuilem; but she has known love, something none of the others have experienced. Until she is made to come to heel (by her parents and Bernard) she is a free spirit, quite wild (her love of shooting, her passion for Jean). The manner in which she kills the bird in front of Thérèse is particularly revealing when we compare Miller’s to Franju’s version. In the former, Anne snaps the wood-pigeon’s neck in a swift brutal gesture (much as Bernard would). In the latter, Anne gently strokes the little bird (a stonechat?), then slowly applies pressure on its throat to slowly extinguish life. In Miller’s version, Anne appears unambiguously hard. Franju’s Anne appears a complex contradiction, both sentimental and cruel. So, even as Thérèse assures us she is pure and innocent, an ambiguity arises.

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