Thursday, May 14, 2015

André Téchiné's IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER -- glamour, nostalgia, crime, and maybe justice

Of the 22 mostly excellent movies made by French director André Téchiné, at least a half-dozen of these have starred the iconic actress Catherine Deneuve, and his latest, IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER, if not one of his best, is certainly worth seeing and mulling. Taken from a real-life crime tale that is evidently very well-known to the French, the movie will not resonate so strongly here in America, and yet its odd and transfixing story should grab foreign-film audiences nonetheless.

M. Téchiné, shown at right, tells the tale in his usual clear-eyed manner, allowing us to view only what observers to these events might have seen and heard, without unduly pushing us in any positive or negative direction involving the characters. Instead of heroes and villains, we get something much more in-between: people with their own agenda who do things good and bad, kind or crappy, toward goals of which we (maybe sometimes even they) can't always be certain. This lends the movie not merely a particular kind of unhinged suspense but also leads to its satisfying-in-some-ways, not-so-in-others conclusion.

This sort of keeping us off-balance, while giving his characters room to expand, deflate or simply surprise us, has been one of the hallmarks of Téchiné's oeuvre, and it is why some of us so treasure the filmmaker. It has also kept him rather firmly out of the art-film mainstream -- even though his films are often set in particularly beautiful locations. But screw that. Téchiné is better -- richer, smarter and finally more genuinely humane -- than mere mainstream.

Here he brings to pulsating life the mid-1970s-set story of a problemed relationship between a mother (played by Ms Deneuve, two photos above) and her daughter (Adèle Haenel, shown just above), a failing gambling casino (the film takes place on the French Riviera) that the Mafia would dearly love to take over, and the involvement in all this of an up-and-coming young man who intends to get much farther ahead (the ubiquitous Guillaume Canet, below).

Class, entitlement, sexism, and some generally inappropriate behavior from nearly all concerned set the movie on a course toward collision. Why and by whom is part of its somewhat nasty charm and sadness. All could have worked out so differently, of course, if behavior from even one of these participants had been a bit different. Which is part of the Téchiné experience, and why some of us we keep coming back to him for more.

The threesome of lead actors does a superb job of keeping us off-balance, with Deneuve giving one of her fiercest performances in some time: such strength put to poor and ill-considered employ. Ms Haenel, whose beauty can stop traffic, is more correctly subdued here: angry but tentative, alternately hopeful and depressed. M. Canet uses his feral side quite well; we may not like him but we certainly understand his motives and actions.

The look of the film is on target, too, as the 70s come back in a rush of color and rather poor (but fun) taste. Everyone smokes, of course, and very large cars -- even for Europe -- are a must.

For the French, this is a story that simply would not die. Many of the movie's most telling moments arrive in more modern-day dress, as some of our characters -- aged quite well by the make-up artists -- live to feint and parry once again.

In the Name of My Daughter -- distributed in the USA by Cohen Media Group and running 116 minutes -- opens tomorrow, Friday, May 15, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. In the weeks following, it will open in another 18 cities. To see them all, with theaters and playdates included, click here

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