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Emmanuelle Riva gives a superlative performance as a provincial woman who is driven to murderous lengths to escape from her suffocating marriage in Georges Franju's compelling adaptation of the novel by François Mauriac.
Never mind that you can't pronounce her last name: buy a ticket and see as treasurable a buried treasure as exists in French cinema. Georges Franju's mastery reached its peak in this grave, utterly compelling adaptation of the François Mauriac novel. (Claude Miller's new version recently premiered as the closing night film at Cannes.) Emmanuelle Riva, her face an impassive mask of torment, is the eponymous Thérèse, a provincial woman — a "sister" of Emma Bovary and Hedda Gabler — who weds, endures, and finally poisons her dull, authoritarian boor of a husband (Philippe Noiret, marvellous as always). Her emotional incarceration finds its image, as it always does in Franju, in the landscape: the moors, marshes, and black-limbed pines of Mauriac's estate, where the film was shot. (Thérèse Desqueyroux illustrates Godard's contention that "it is Franju's art . . . to turn the camera's gaze on faces and objects just long enough to brand them deeply.") A study in menace and penance, Thérèse Desqueyroux is "one of the most successful fusions of cinema and literature ever produced . . . . Perhaps Franju's finest, most fully achieved film" (Philip Kemp); "Riva is an ideal screen actress in the way that Jeanne Moreau and Annie Girardot are ideal: beyond their skills, they're fascinating to look at" (Pauline Kael).