Les Vies de Thérèse: Being right up until the end
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2016: Leading feminist figure Thérèse Clerc (also featured in previous films of his) asks Sébastien Lifshitz to film the end of her life, so that they can "brave it together"
The documentary is 55 minutes long and takes place in a very familial atmosphere, but it is no small film that Sébastien Lifshitz brings us with Les Vies de Thérèse [+see also:
film profile], which he presented in Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. If the greatness of a work were measured in tears, one might call this a tremendous film, humble before the beauty of life but possessed by a will of iron, like its protagonist, militant feminist Thérèse Clerc, who also previously featured in Lifshitz’s documentary Les Invisibles [+see also:
film profile]. Knowing that she is incurably ill and doomed to watch her condition deteriorate, she herself asked the director to film this important stage in life, her death.
We quickly understand, through the way in which she describes the stages of her deterioration as she experiences them, that for this elderly lady who has lived such a full life, this latest venture is another way of remaining in control of her existence, and the pleasure she takes in this final political gesture, the last in a long line, is clear to see from the sparkle in her blue-eyes, her expression calmly lighting up her beautiful wrinkled face. And so Thérèse, as she is called by the four children she had during her marriage as a good Catholic girl, before her feminist awakening in 1968 and her divorce (which was the first step in a process of emancipation that was more like a blossoming than a fight in the strictest sense of the word) manages to choose the direction of her life right up until the end – or lives rather, as suggested by her dear sons and daughters, gathered around a table by the director, who repeat that depending on their ages, depending on whether they knew their mother more as a wife or an independent divorced woman, they didn’t all have ‘the same mother’. Her existentialist determination is clear to see when she asks the doctor to tell her “what she can expect”, to make her final decisions in full possession of the facts and be able to “brave” the circumstances instead of allowing them to control her, even though she accepts them and doesn’t try to resist her approaching death.
Even during her activist years, her commitment didn’t so much take the form of combat or resistance, so much as a surge and awakening (in particular a sexual awakening), to the extent that she never blindly linked the causes she believed in (like the ‘commune’ movement, in which she also saw things she didn’t agree with). In other words, Thérèse has never fallen into dogmatism but has always reshaped her choices with complete integrity, according to the values dear to her – love, life, etc. –, in such a way that if she has indeed led at least two lives, before and after her divorce, there is still only one Thérèse, she who chooses in this film to share all the memories that co-exist inside her, to make the most of the people she loves so that she can "be happy right up until the end", and to put herself in front of Lifshitz’s affectionate camera so that even after she’s gone, we can talk about her in the present.
The film is being sold internationally by Doc & Films International.
(Translated from French)