In Name of My Daughter
by Glenn Lovell
Veteran director André Téchiné, best known for “Wild Reeds” and “The Girl on the Train,” returns with a speculative crime drama that opens diffidently, finds its stride midpoint, then sort of resolves in a courtroom kerfuffle. My guess is that Téchiné vowed to remain faithful to the facts in a well-known (at least in France) case that combined sun, sex and money. And this was his undoing because truth, once again, proves stranger — and a whole lot more contrived ‒ than pulp-y fiction, especially as practiced by Cornell Woolrich and Georges Simenon.
Téchiné’s “In the Name of My Daughter’’ ‒ billed as “a fiction based on real events” ‒ reexamines the bizarre story of Maurice Agnelet, who in the late ’70s was suspected of killing his on-again, off-again lover Agnès Le Roux for her inheritance. At the urging of Agnès’s mother, a onetime casino boss, the case was reopened 30 years later, at which time Agnelet was acquitted … then found guilty (thanks to damning testimony by his son) … then innocent … then guilty.
Though now serving a 20-year sentence, Agnelet was convicted on circumstantial evidence ‒ Agnès’s body was never found ‒ and to this day he maintains his innocence. Téchiné makes the guy out to be a user and a weasel but hardly someone you would peg for a killer. And that’s a problem.
The 71-year-old Catherine Deneuve plays Agnès’s mother over a three decade span. When we meet Madame Le Roux she’s a partner in an ill-run Côte d’Azur casino that’s rupturing $$$ and in danger of being bought out by a competitor with ties to the Mafia. Little wonder. The Palais de la Méditerranée, as it’s called, has all the ambiance of a Florida retirement home. Maurice (Guillaume Canet), a local lawyer, talks Le Roux into a risky power grab. Agnès (a manic Adele Haenel) would rather mom sell her share of the casino so she can invest in a boutique.
As this internecine jockeying unfolds, Maurice, feeling slighted, changes allegiance from mother to daughter ‒ for, it’s later conjectured, a quick payday.
“In the Name …” is a desultory mash-up of tones and styles. And in the end it doesn’t really succeed as either melodrama or mystery. Téchiné’s pacing is off and potentially incriminating information (Agnès’s bracing ocean swims and mood swings, Maurice’s habit of recording his clients) is jack-hammered into place with zero finesse. Throughout, the director assumes knowledge we don’t have. Which may explain why he forgets to establish the mid-’70s time frame of the first two acts.
Worse, Deneuve’s and Canet’s characters don’t add up. She’s self-centered and aloof for much of the film, and then suddenly, after we flash forward 30 years, is the epitome of the all-sacrificing mother (sans aging makeup). Maurice is frequently described as a notorious womanizer ‒ “a go-getting stud.” Our response: Say what?! Canet is more the nervous lapdog type.
IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER ✮1/2 With Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adèle Haenel. Directed by André Téchiné; scripted by Téchiné, Jean-Charles Le Roux, Cédric Anger from the book by Jean-Charles and Renée Le Roux. 116 min. Rated R (for nudity, language, adult subject matter)