Actress Audrey Tautou, known for her sweet and light roles in such films as “Amelie,” praised the late director Claude Miller as a “bright and passionate” filmmaker who helped her turn in a darker direction in his final film.
The French star plays a husband-poisoner in Miller’s “Therese Desqueyroux,” which closed the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday at a special screening celebrating the lauded New Wave filmmaker, who died last month of cancer at age 70.
The contemporary of Francois Truffaut, whose large body of work includes 1998’s Cannes Jury Prize winner “Class Trip,” helped Tautou to take on the role in the adaptation of Francois Mauriac’s novel about a frustrated wife who slowly tries to kill her husband with arsenic to get freedom.
The gritty role, and Miller’s acuity and patience, helped her unlock her inner dark side.
“It didn’t exactly free me, but it did make more want to explore cinema even more,” she said, in an interview with The Associated Press, wearing shades on a terrace overlooking the French Riviera. “I really liked the experience… I had to try to not be scared of Therese. I want to go to the darker side of humanity.”
The film is set in the French region of Landes, near Bordeaux, where the young, cerebral Therese is forced to marry authoritative Bernard, played by Gilles Lellouche, whom she grows to despise.
The role is a far cry from “Amelie,” the touching 2001 story of a shy Parisienne waitress who changes the lives of those around her through eccentric acts of kindness. That role shot her to stardom, but 10 years later, Tautou seized upon her “dream script” as an opportunity to grow up.
“I’m not the same woman I was when I was 22-years-old. I don’t feel genuine in young ingenue parts any more. Therese led me to entirely new terrain,” said Tautou.
She said Miller’s talents remained with him right until he died.
“Claude really gave us a life lesson on the shoot of ‘Therese.’ When you see the film he made — brilliant and unrelenting — you think how crazy it is that a film like that could be made with such simplicity,” Tautou said.
She recalled her last conversation with Miller in April. “Yes, I remember, yes,” she said, with hesitation. “The thing is, right until the end his eyes would sparkle. He was so bright and passionate.”
Tautou said she was deeply sad that Miller cannot grace the red carpet with her at the festival, but laughed and remembered something he said just before he succumbed to the illness.
“Ah, we’d talk about movies, about ‘Therese.’ Oh, we’d talk about Cannes! He said when we go to Cannes, we’ll have to dress nicely.”