It is sad news when a good movie starring Catherine Deneuve only has a week’s/weak showing. She recently suffered the unimaginable indignity of showing her age at the Cannes festival on opening day two weeks ago. That she is made to look especially matronly in this movie doesn’t help.
I blame the declivity on the distribution model of French movies which has changed significantly since I began going to the cinéma in the 1980s.
In The Name Of My Daughter was released a year ago in France and opened earlier on the coast of the US before reaching fly-over land.
A delay from France is not unusual, but the bias towards larger markets contradicts a movie’s national concurrent press. Once it reaches the smaller, less important cities, it has been forgotten.
In The Name Of My Daughter is time well spent at the movies. Adapted from the memoir of Catherine Deneuve’s character Renée Le Roux, Une femme face à la mafia (A Woman Up Against The Mafia), it recounts the story of a mother’s determination to seek justice for her daughter.
The movie’s director, André Techiné, like the late Patrice Leconte, is prolific and reliable. His movies tell interesting stories with a steady pace.
Before we meet Renée, we meet her daughter Agnès, (Adèle Haenel). Renée has sent her minion, struggling lawyer Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet) to pick her up at the airport. She is returning from Africa, newly divorced, and ready to start the next chapter of her life.
Renée manages a casino she inherited from her late husband, the non-Vegas-like, luxurious Le Palais de la Mediteranée.
An unexpectedly huge loss for the casino suggests interference from the Corsican mafia. Renée closes ranks and convinces the casino’s board to vote her in as CEO.
Maurice pressures Renée to appoint him general manager, but she declines after his encumbrance arouses suspicion. Maurice is devastated that his long-term grooming of Renée, along with its anticipated payday, has come to naught.
He desperately plans to reestablish his position via her daughter. He can exploit the animus between them. Agnès is angry that her mother will not disburse her portion of her father’s inheritance. She rebels by undermining her mother’s authority at the casino by developing a relationship with Maurice.
He tells Agnès that he’s not attracted to her; being sporty, she’s not his type. He has a wife and son along with mistresses, a stereotypical French arrangement. He is clear with her that this is how he lives, he will not change, and that he is not interested in having a relationship with her.
But, this is France, so they wind up sleeping together.
Unfortunately, Agnès is not as bifurcated with having sex and curbing any emotional attachment it may provoke as is Maurice, and she falls obsessively in love with him. It’s an unhealthy, ruinous infatuation. When he neglects her, her obsession only grows.
I had toxic relationships like this when I was that age, as did many of my girlfriends. The men were assholes, but not sociopaths with a plan capable of violence. Maurice detaches himself from her as her depression deepens. Agnès disappears without a word.
Renée is convinced Maurice has murdered her daughter, but Agnès’ body is never found. The paltry evidence is circumstantial. The odds are against Renée receiving justice “in the name of her daughter,” but she sacrifices everything to achieve it.
Guillaume Canet actually had conversations with his real-life character. Their talks influenced the scenes between Agnès and Maurice, dialogue he “could never have made up.” (production notes)
Conceding his “loose” adaptation of the book, Techiné’s movie is more an insight to a twentysomething woman’s distorted emotions than a recountal of Renée’s quest for justice, despite the latter being the essence of her book. This is intentional, as Techiné remains scarred from watching the 1950 courtroom drama, Justice Is Done (Justice est faite) . I’m surprised he’s never seen The Verdict, a wonderful courtroom drama.
Techiné considers this “a war film. But on a human level.” (production notes)
Maurice may be at war with Renée, but two opposing parties are necessary for a war. The movie does not cover these two characters fighting one another until the brief courtroom scenes at the end. Even then, the justice system and their lawyers are the combatants, not them.
The part of the story concerning the casino and the mafia, while true, feels like a B-story in a television script; padding to justify the luxurious locals and saturated shots of the South of France.
The French title of the movie translates to “The Man One Loved Too Much.”
It is mostly a rather sad story of a young woman’s self destruction. Perhaps her parents were too occupied with running the casino to be present during her crucial adolescent years. Her spontaneous African marriage and divorce suggest an immature impulsiveness.
Renée is happy when Agnès returns, but Agnès quickly rejects her when she doesn’t get her inheritance. Her only source of comfort comes from Maurice. She collaborates with him, too immature to understand the disastrous ramifications her spite will have for her mother and herself.