Director Claude Miller crafts a visually beautiful but emotionally hollow film.
Many of the shots are gorgeous, beginning with the opening frames and continuing to the end when Therese (Audrey Tatou) walks with a Parisian crowd.
Contradictorily, however, the few visual effects are not compelling. The fire that ravages Therese and Bernard’s (Gilles Lellouche) forests, for instance, is insufficient for 2013. In the 1960s, it might have been revolutionary, but not today.
The plot, characters, dialogue, and themes are also remnants of a bygone era. Had this movie been made in the 1940s, it might have worked, but today it has limited application.
More troublingly, the movie suffers from a nondescript titular performance. Audrey Tatou is meant to capture the same subtlety and emotional reserve Forrest Whitaker finds in The Butler, but she fails. Instead of subtle complexity, she delivers simplicity, wearing the same dour expression in almost every shot, only sparsely veering into a reserved smile. She isn’t bad, per se, but neither is she good.
Which is a shame, because her character is well-written and complex, especially as an example of show not tell.
The screenplay has flaws, however. First, teenage Therese is characterized differently than adult Therese. Yes, people can change, but usually not this radically.
Moreover, Anne’s (Anais Demoustier) story feels important, but then disappears. It is an awkward transition that doesn’t work.
Finally, the movie suffers from disjointing temporal leaps. One moment, we’re looking at teenagers. The next moment, without transition, it’s nine years later.
And yet Therese isn’t precisely terrible. In addition to being beautiful, it is paced well and develops Bernard with skill. We neither like nor hate him, which means his story is interesting, just like Therese’s.
The supporting cast is quite good, especially Gilles LeLouche as Bernard.
The score is beautiful.
Best of all: Therese’s criminal behavior is rapt with suspense and intrigue. It is a thirty minute section in the middle of the movie and makes for quality storytelling.
But the preceding and successive events simply do not match it.
Which is why this movie does not overcome limited thematic application, uneven writing and a nondescript lead performance.