Set in the casino culture of the French Riviera in the 1970s, André Téchiné’s “In the Name of My Daughter” has a glossy, burnished look that can only mean one thing: Something sordid lurks beneath.
The film is based on a notorious case, the Affaire Le Roux, in which Agnès (Adèle Haenel), heiress to a casino fortune, fell for Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), the lawyer for her casino-running mother, Renée Le Roux (Catherine Deneuve). Against the wishes of Renée, a widow who fears a takeover by a mafia kingpin (Jean Corso), Agnès, recently divorced and footloose, wants to sell her shares in the Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice and live independently.
Rebuffed by Renée when she turns him down as managing director, Maurice engineers Agnès’s departure, wresting control of her money and adding her to his string of mistresses. She disappeared in 1977 and a court ultimately ruled Maurice was responsible.
This is Téchiné’s seventh film featuring Deneuve, and it’s not one of the better ones. (The best is probably 1986’s “Scene of the Crime.”) Still, it has its true-crime fascinations, and, until its misbegotten 30-year flash-forward to Maurice’s trial, it has a silky allure of sun-kissed depravity. Agnès’s gathering fixation on Maurice, which at first seems like a flirty dalliance, is the film’s driving force.
It needs that momentum, because Téchiné, as usual, has a tendency to let his movies drift into dead-ended marginalia. He’s making a movie about obsession, but he lacks the obsessive gene. Compare this film with, say, François Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H.” if you want to know the difference between the depiction of a compulsion and the depth-charged exploration of one.
Deneuve, clothed for the most part in high-end outfits that seem more smothering than flattering, gives her role a regal edge. We can see how this proud, inwardly fragile woman might have intimidated Agnès into retaliation. What I couldn’t spot was Maurice’s charm. The role calls for a slick roué – a much younger Alain Delon would have been perfect – but Canet is unalluring in every way. I suppose he was trying for a scary, stolid impassiveness, but he just comes across as wooden. Canet’s performance isn’t quite as injurious to the movie as, by all rights, it should be, because we can make the leap that Agnès, for whatever inchoate reasons, finds Maurice’s stolidness irresistible. Haenel is a frisky, compelling actress, and she is able to effortlessly span a trajectory of moods from beguiled to deranged. There’s a startling sequence in Agnès’s apartment when she performs an African dance for Maurice and she is both seducing him and unraveling in front of his eyes. The scene might have been a great one if Maurice wasn’t so, well – wooden. Grade: B- (Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and some language.)