Friday, March 1, 2013


The story of Thérèse Desqueyroux is one that remains quite significant for all types of societies today: it's about a woman who struggles to fit into her housewife stature—even of upper class family—from a family who owns a pinery business in the early 20th century.  Audrey Tautou plays Thérèse Larroque who becomes Thérèse Desqueyroux, post-marriage set in the post-World War I era in the Landes region of France. 

(Unfortunately, there are no trailers with English subtitles.  But the film is viewable in the US with them.)

Since her teenage years, her father accepted a silent agreement for an arranged marriage between Thérèse and her best friend's brother, Bernard Desqueyrouxplayed by Gilles Lellouche—as the Desqueyroux family also own a large pine business, the plan being to merge the two family businesses as Thérèse will not be authorized by law to inherit her father's company. 

In the midst of this old traditional merger, Thérèse is caught in a business deal, which consequently ends up strangling her philosophical and intellectual mind to the brink of madness.  As for all women during the pre-Women's Movement, she is expected to simply slip into her wifely duties, shut off her mind and stay obedient to her family and especially her husband. She becomes a prisoner in her home.

It is a commentary on how many women were forced to fit into their assigned societal roles: as property, rather than having the chance to reach their full capacity as human beings.

Not to give too much away about the film, however it's become more and more apparent: the importance of underlining the ongoing conversation of the women's condition–then and now—and perhaps more importantly bridging the gap in between, for the generations of today, for young females as well as males. 

It has become pervasive as of late: whether it's on television shows such as, Downton Abbey, the recent documentary Makers, or Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In, and of course the film under discussion, (it's a new rendition of Thérèse Desqueyroux by Claude Miller, 2012, as the original being by Georges Franju, 1962, starring Manuel Riva), the matter of what happened then and what continues to happen to women now, is very much of an unresolved battle, which penetrates all of our lives whether we realize it or not. 

In Thérèse's case she had no choice—for the most part—as women could not own anything, nor were they allowed to have an education and pursue a career, for quite some time after the WWI period.  Today, particularly in western societies, women can and do own properties, have education, do pursue a careers and of course opt not to get married if they choose.  And yet, there remains the biggest debate between the sexes: should women be mostly responsible for the home and family if they one? Should women get equal pay for the same job as men?  Should there be a quota for higher percentage of women to fill in the senate, the supreme court, and influential board seats?  And what's more: do the young women of today want to take on such responsibilities? And can they? 

What we know is this: so much has evolved since the days of Lady Mary Crawley, not being able to inherit Downton Abbey, purely because she's a woman; and that by law, her mother's fortune and her father's castle must go to any other younger male counterparts no matter how far removed they are as their immediate family; and since the days of women like Thérèse Desqueyroux who felt helpless from a very slow mental death as thinking was not encouraged of women back then—and indeed, women's place in society today have changed immensely from such poisonous circumstances for the most parts (of the world). 

And yet how many female presidents reign as of today: not many—they are still very much a rarity of species.  And why are female leaders and decision makers still a minute minority compared to its male counterparts? 

Perhaps the true question that needs to be posed here is something that Sheryl Sandberg underscores in her book, Lean In: How much have the male roles changed since the Bernard Desqueyrouxs or the Matthew Crawleys?  If we expect women to rise to the challenge of becoming equal from men, won't they need their male counterparts to readjust the see-saw on their side to create equal balance? 

The only way societies can evolve healthier into the future with both sexes mentally (and physically) intact, is first to presently examine our past first—that is to understand where women are coming from.  Which brings us to the film: Thérèse Desqueyroux does an excellent job at demonstrating how a woman's repressed psyche can destroy not just the woman, but also the man in the process. 

Thérèse Desqueyroux premiers this weekend as part of the New York French Film Festival at the Lincoln Center Film Society.  To see showtimes and to learn more about the film, go HERE

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