In “In the Name of My Daughter,” the latest import from major French director Andre Techine, all the elements are in place for a great true-crime opus. In the mid-1970s, struggling casino executive Renee Le Roux (Catherine Deneuve) is being threatened by a rival magnate with mafia ties, who aims to level her business and its 350 employees.
Renee has some help in her corner, or so she thinks, in the form of Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), an obsequious lawyer and “adviser” with intentions to shoehorn himself into her casino operation, should she keep the business. Complicating matters further is Renee’s aloof daughter Agnes (Adele Haenel), returning home after surviving a divorce, hoping to cash in her shares of the casino at a time when Renee isn’t ready or able to let them go. Meanwhile, she finds herself drawn too much to the shadowy, charismatic Maurice, launching an affair that ends in a tragic question mark that remains, to this day, unanswered.
Put three characters with opposing motivations in an environment this combustible—with the twin motivators of money and love picking through the ashes like vultures—and you’ve got an inherently compelling story. Thanks to powerful performances from its leads, Techine draws considerable traction from the case, which made national headlines in its day. Deneuve is usually sequestered in supporting roles of benign grandmas these days, but here she’s as elegant and commanding as she’s ever been.
Haenel, though, who is regularly nominated for Cesar Awards in her native country, is the real standout here. Whether it’s engaging in an impromptu bit of African dance at Maurice’s behest, breaking in the bed at her new apartment with some uninhibited pogoing, or plunging deep into the waters of her local beach, she’s the very picture of reckless abandon. An adult with a child’s mindset, she’s the rapacious and unpredictable cog in the plans of both Renee and Maurice, and her portrayal is unflinching in its doomed conviction.
Handsome and well constructed as the film is, however, it’s also exhaustingly talky and too low-key for its own good. It’s paced with the careful, patient dryness of filmed legal documents and transcripts (it’s based in fact on Renee’s memoir), not with the enveloping, pulse-quickening progression a thriller. An ill-advised courtroom denouement of sorts, set in 2005, reveals less about the lingering tragedy of the previous 93 minutes than it does the ghastly, unconvincing job of Techine’s makeup department. The story finally peters to an anticlimax followed by a lengthy postscript of information too complicated to skip over so blithely.
By shining a pitiless spotlight on a 30-year-old scandal, In the Name of My Daughter is a worthy entry in the true-crime cinematic lexicon. But for American audiences unfamiliar with the case, a basic Google search may yield a more elucidating account. Techine has produced far wiser films about the human condition when he’s written them himself, but see this one for the performances and you won’t be disappointed.
“In the Name of My Daughter” opens Friday at Living Room Theaters and Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, The Classic Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale, Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood, and the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables.