Thérèse Raquin Review

The Film

Many of the films for which Marcel Carné is praised for concern the struggle of a common man. The place of women within this struggle often seems to be little more than as symbols of drudgery or as the tempting promise of empowerment. I have found the female characters in his films as being periphery to the director's basic concerns, and their function as a simple reflection of the male protagonist. By way of contrast, his men are fascinating models for social analysis whose development within the films is crucial to the themes of the director's work.
Emile Zola's story of Thérèse Raquin was a strange choice for Carné as the story's centre is about a trapped woman. In his treatment of the story, I am not sure Carné shows the same care or insight for this character's interior world as he does in his films about downtrodden men. Such women do appear in his earlier films, Nelly the love interest trapped by incestuous Pierre Brasseur in Quai des Brumes for instance, but the focus of those works is one decent man's attempts to make things good and right rather than a feminine perspective on oppressive fate.

Simply, this is the story of a wasted wife married to a useless cousin. She is kept in the relationship by the gratitude she is expected to feel for being saved from poverty, and she fills the role of emotional punch bag and domestic slave for her husband and his dominating mother. This glamorous woman meets a friend of her husband's and an affair ignites between the woman trapped in wedlock and the immigrant truck driver. Things come to a head and the husband attempts to hold on to his wife and is murdered by his love rival. Events which are witnessed by a young former soldier who sees an opportunity to get rich quick.
The undemonstrative Therese is a hard character to warm to. Sure she is bullied and oppressed, sure she deserves a rugged lover and genuine affection, but her frequently passive behaviour is not adequately explained or backed up by depth of portrayal. Signoret's performance is a little flat and perhaps she is a little too old to portray a naive innocent. In contrast, the cousin and her aunt are melodramatic caricatures and whilst the weasly Jacques Duby serves to explain why she would fall for manly trucker Raf Vallone, Duby can be confused with a comic foil at times.

There also seems to be a problem of balancing the Zola intention of explaining seemingly adulterous passion with the ongoing Carné theme of poetic realism. Like in L'Air de Paris, the romance doesn't quite convince as an amour fou and what lyricism exists in the story is really concentrated on the fate of the blackmailing Roland Lesaffre. With his boxing gloves, ex-soldier status and desire to hit the big time, Lesaffre's role is clearly a dry run for his leading role in Carné's next film.
It is left to fate what will happen to the two lovers in what is possibly the only really successful poetic moment of the film. This lack of lyrical quality in the dialogue, the acting or the direction leads me to the conclusion that Carné was a far more successful film-maker when he worked with Jacques Prevert. This film along with L'Air de Paris reach for the ideas and themes which enrich the director's earlier work but stumble around in melodrama where an understanding of humanity was needed.

It needs to be noted how brilliantly composed and lit this film is. In taking the screenshots for this review, it was virtually impossible to not find a frame which wasn't always telling the story in the way it was lit or composed. As a piece of visual execution this is a real triumph, but as a whole film Thérèse Raquin didn't lift my soul.

Transfer and Sound

This is a strong transfer but not one that enjoys the depth and film like quality that you may hope for. There is a natural and decent level of grain visible on the image, and edges have been managed subtly. The contrast is good enough but some of the black levels seem too strong to my eye, and some detail is lost because of this. This criticism is easily dealt with though and it seems harsh to mark the film down too much for this issue.
The sound has a little more damage with occasional clicks, hiss and pop but the audio is well reproduced and given the age this is very good. English subtitles are optional, easily read and, with my limited French, seems like a good translation.

Discs and Special Features

Not much to report here. No extras, just a basic scene select and subtitles option on a still menu. It's a single layer disc locked to region two.


Given my affection for early Carné, I found Thérèse Raquin disappointing but others may rate it better than I. This is a basic but strong treatment of the film which provides a good opportunity to pick up a later movie from an intriguing director.

7 out of 10
7 out of 10
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out of 10

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