Free-spirited newly-wed Therese Desqueyroux (Audrey Tautou) kicks back against the suffocating repression of bourgeoise provincial France with devastating results. Obliged to enter a loveless match, the young Therese quietly rebels against her boorish husband (Gilles Lellouche) in a rejection that will see her turning to crime to free herself from his flaccid grip. The last film from French director Claude Miller, this adaptation of François Mauriac's novel offers a sombre insight into a world of snobbery and anti-semitism.
We've all heard of the crime passionel, the peculiarly Gallic reaction to emotional unpleasantness that usually results in one or other of the injured parties on the mortician's slab.
However, French director Claude Miller's final movie, based on the novel by François Mauriac, appears to introduce a novel variation of the phrase - the crime dispassionel.
The disinterested offender is Audrey Tautou's Therese Desqueyroux, an allegedly emancipated young woman who rebels against a suffocating marriage to a bourgeois boor by poisoning him with medicinal arsenic.
Yet there is nothing passionate or perturbed about her modus operandi: she simply decides that she's had enough of his swaggering snobbery, casual anti-semitism and narrow-minded provincialism...and boosts his daily dose.
Tautou's Desqueyroux is a wan enigma living a privileged life of detached ennui in the grand house of her husband Bernard (Lellouche), whose arranged marriage means that their respective families' vast pine forests in the Bordeaux area are as one.
She glimpses life as it could be lived when her flighty sister-in-law (Demoustier) falls for a Jewish neighbour only for the fledgling romance to be stamped out by her fearsome mother and the bullying Bernard.
Even the arrival of a baby daughter can't seem to pep up her indifferent existence...until she realises that she can easily rid herself of her hypochondriac hubbie with the help of a small pipette.
Although always watchable, there's a dynamism missing, handicapped in no small measure by a dialled down performance from Tautou, who is far too old for the role of a young free spirit.
There's also a bizarre redemption for the poncey clan Desqueyroux (well, Bernard) that's not merited by their appalling behaviour and a final reel which doesn't sit easily with the snotty oppression that's gone before.