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CANNES — A true-crime story of the fatal power struggle among a casino queen, her rebellious daughter and the playboy lawyer who betrayed one and beguiled the other, In the Name of My Daughter sounds on paper like Dynasty on the Cote d’Azur. If only it were that campy. Instead, this muddled, tension-free mystery — the seventh film by Andre Techine to feature Catherine Deneuve — makes all three points of the triangle uninteresting, while failing to stir much intrigue into its cloudy account of the Riviera casino wars of the 1970s.
Deneuve plays Renee Le Roux — whose memoir was the basis of the screenplay by Techine, the author’s son Jean-Charles Le Roux, and Cedric Anger.
The story starts in 1976, when Renee’s daughter, Agnes Le Roux (Adele Haenel), returns from abroad to her home in the South of France after a failed marriage. An heiress who inherited a sizeable stake in the one-time jet-set hot spot Palais de la Mediterranee casino in Nice, Agnes just wants to sell her shares in the fading establishment and live independently. It’s inferred that she prefers not to spend too much time around her widowed mother, though other than being forced to take ballet lessons as a child, the film doesn’t shed a lot of light on the causes of that strained bond.
With the casino losing money and mob rivals closing in, Renee doesn’t want Agnes’ stake to go outside the family. But nor does she have the liquid cash to buy her daughter out.
Meanwhile, Renee increasingly turns for advice to ambitious lawyer Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), who helps maneuver the old-guard administration out and install Renee as board president. But friction sours their working relationship when she then declines to appoint Maurice as managing director. An avowed non-believer in monogamy, the lawyer adds Agnes to his string of mistresses. After making strategic introductions, he construes a way for Agnes to get the money she wants by voting against her mother and allowing Mafia kingpin Fratoni (Jean Corso) to wrest control of the casino away from Renee.
All this and the events that follow are framed by the elderly Renee’s successful crusade, 30 years later, to have the investigation into her daughter’s disappearance reopened. Convinced that Maurice either killed Agnes or organized a hit man to do it, Renee refuses to rest as long as he remains at liberty.
While the film has infinite problems, casting is key among them. Denueve is Deneuve and always watchable, even if costumer Pascaline Chavanne apparently loathes her, dressing Renee in refashioned curtains and upholstery fabric for most of the ’70s scenes. But Canet’s Maurice has got to be the least charismatic playboy ever to score multiple women, coming off as smug and unappealing. (The original French title translates roughly as “The Man Who Was Loved Too Much.”) The awful old-guy makeup for Maurice’s court scenes doesn’t help the performance.
The most crippling casting choice, however, is Haenel. She makes prickly, erratic Agnes such a charmless bore that her unsolved disappearance can’t come fast enough. Even when she falls prey to amour fou for increasingly unavailable Maurice, giving him access to her finances, we’re provided with no compelling reason to care what happens to this distancing character.
Despite a bid to breathe some edge into the visuals by having cinematographer Julien Hirsch shoot much of the coverage with nervy handheld camera — however little tonal sense that makes — this is a musty, out-of-touch effort. It’s kitschy in its evocation of a time and place in the 1970s scenes, and then wooden in the drawn-out courtroom climax that grinds on toward the two-hour mark.
Techine’s last screen retelling of a sensational tabloid case, The Girl on the Train, was sly, illusive and seductive. This one is just inert.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition; Cohen Media Group)
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel, Jean Corso, Judith Chemla
Production companies: Fidelite Films, Mars Cinema, VIP Cinema 1, Caneo Films
Director: Andre Techine
Screenwriters: Andre Techine, Jean-Charles Le Roux, Cedric Anger, based on the book “Une Femme face a la mafia,” by Renee Le Roux and Jean-Charles Le Roux
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Executive producer: Christine De Jekel
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Production designer: Olivier Radot
Costume designer: Pascaline Chavanne
Editor: Herve de Luze
Music: Benjamin Biolay
Sales: Elle Driver
No rating, 118 minutes.
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