Fans of French cinema must surely have followed the release of André Téchiné’s latest film In the Name of My Daughter with great anticipation. In this drama which premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, screen goddesses from two generations converged through the iconic Catherine Deneuve and rising star Adèle Haenel. The duo play mother and daughter in the film, which is based on a 1970s criminal case surrounding the wealthy Le Roux family.
The plot of In the Name of My Daughter centers around three main individuals – Agnès Le Roux (Adèle Haenel), Renée Le Roux (Catherine Deneuve) and Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet). At the beginning of the film, Agnès has just returned home (the South of France) from Africa after going through a divorce. Upon her arrival, she reacquaints herself with her mother Renée, who is making moves to establish control of the Palais de la Méditerranée casino with the aid of her trusted advisor Maurice. As she works to ensure the casino’s future, Renée proves to be a shrewd businesswoman, refusing to hand over the inheritance that Agnès demands in order to get a fresh start. The decision causes tension between them, which sends Agnès into the arms of Maurice, a known womanizer. Together, the two conspire to join forces with a suspected mafia boss and rival casino owner, in an effort to unseat Renée from her position. But Maurice soon starts to distance himself from Agnès and together with their acts of betrayal, there are devastating consequences to come for the parties involved.
Before the plot gets underway, the film displays a notice that says “This is a fiction based on real events. Certain scenes and conversations are a product of poetic license and are not a historical portrayal of the events as they actually occurred.” Of course, much of this goes without saying for a narrative feature but it’s particularly noteworthy in this instance. In interviews, Téchiné has expressly stated that he didn’t want to change the names of the real life persons and make the film into a largely fictional story. After watching the film however, one wonders whether a more loose adaptation would have better served the film. Especially considering the ripped from the headlines nature of the plot – war-like betrayal and power plays, unrequited love, sex, mafia-related crime and a murder mystery – a more sensational thriller approach seemed warranted. Instead, the film is admittedly a rather dry affair, directed with elegant restraint.
It’s not for a lack of strong performances though, particularly from our three principal actors. As the rakish Agnelet, Canet delivers a cool, confident performance. He gives the character a mix of inviting charm and unknowable mystery that is perfectly suited to the role. As Renee, the luminous Catherine Deneuve shows that she hasn’t lost the touch that made her one of the most popular actresses following her breakout in the early 1960s. Now in her 70s, she is still a tremendously alluring presence, enhanced by the flattering high fashion costume design from Pascaline Chavanne. The real star of the film however, is the young Adèle Haenel as the vulnerable but passionate Agnès. There’s an emotional nuance to her performance that comes closest to the dynamic quality that the film needs.
With the film’s real life case still shrouded in mystery and a sensitive issue for the family affected, it’s understandable that Téchiné would approach it with respectful subtlety. His refined directing style is certainly admirable, but unfortunately the narrative ends up feeling anti-climatic. In the Name of My Daughter therefore fails to match up to Téchiné’s best work, but it’s at least worth it to see two great actresses at the top of their game.
In the Name of My Daughter releases in select theaters May 8, 2015.