Although this remake of the 1962 classic is beautifully shot and acted, it's so hollow and bleak that it leaves us cold. The topic at hand is the clash between passionate romance and a suitable marriage in a time and place where society told you how to live your life. And while the production design lavishly recreates the period, there's so little hope on display that we feel trapped in a loveless marriage ourselves.
It's 1928, and lifelong buddies Therese and Anne (Tautou and Demoustier) are finally of age, ready to launch themselves into adulthood. Therese has always been promised to Anne's swaggering brother Bernard (Lellouche), and she's excited at the thought of life with him. But nothing prepares her for the harsh, icy reality. Meanwhile, Anne is freer to explore her romantic longing for the poor but sexy fisherman Azevedo (Weber). Of course he's not remotely suitable, so Therese is sent to make Anne see reason. But when she meets Azevedo, she only makes things worse. Meanwhile, her relationship with Bernard takes an even more sinister turn.
Yes, this is a film about a woman trapped in the very life she always dreamed of having, constrained by society from living her own life and forced to take drastic action. But even this doesn't have the results she was expecting, because in this time and place, a woman simply could not control her own destiny. This is an odd kind of film for the usually gregarious Tautou and Lellouche to make, as the grim tone robs them of their usual overpowering charm. Which means that they deliver potent performances as people who are rather pathetic and unlikeable.
But their misery feels far too literary, as if it's heaped upon them by a novelist merely to remind us of the value of self-determination, the dangers of organised religion and the evils of the class system. The late filmmaking maestro Miller beautifully captures this on film, with a terrific sense of detail. But it's so relentlessly downbeat that it begins to plod. Even so, he leaves us pondering how tricky it is to understand even our own motives, let alone someone else's. And also how important-looking movies are often interesting without being entertaining.