Review: In the Name of My Daughter


The story is based on fact, though director Andre Techine makes it clear right up front that poetic liberties have been taken in the film. The French language production is interesting and frustrating. Interesting in large part because the lead character is distinct and apparently so secure with herself that she seems immune to the nonsense surrounding her mother and Mom's conniving lawyer. Frustrating for many reasons, one of which is that the independent daughter eventually proves all too susceptible to love fever.

Catherine Deneuve plays Renee Le Roux, whose Palais de la Mediterranee is an old school casino coveted by rival (and possible Mafia crime lord) Fratoni (Jean Corso). It's 1976 and the rival wants to convert the place into a Las Vegas style money machine. Renee is aided by her business adviser/lawyer/toadie Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Cadet). We learn that he has a string of mistresses. We never learn why.

Enter Agnes (Adele Haenel), Le Roux's recently divorced adult child. Agnes is gloriously unglamorous and comfortable in her own skin. When Maurice tries to hustle her off to see Mom, she defiantly heads out for a swim, because that's what she wants to do.

The bulk of the movie focuses on Agnes, her mother and the ever-present Maurice. Mom wrests voting control over the casino from the board because, in the event of a tie vote, she gets to decide. Is she capable of running the place? Not alone, but with Maurice by her side ...

Wait, is Maurice really on her side? What exactly is up with the guy? Shortly after meeting Agnes, he starts coming on to her. She soundly rejects him, which made me happy, because someone as self-directed as she is clearly too smart for this guy's bullshit. Sadly, her disdain fades. Perhaps it was simply part of the whole mating ritual.

Speaking of ritual, let's take a moment to celebrate the African dance Agnes does in front of Maurice. Remember on Seinfeld when Elaine danced and the world watched in stunned horror? Agnes' dance is sorta like that. Her level of commitment is total, which is admirable, but the dance itself ... hoo boy, those gyrations are straight out of Crazytown, daddy-o!

When In the Name of My Daughter follows Mom's machinations and the sparring between Agnes and Maurice, I was fully involved. Director Techine's jitter-cam handheld work was distracting, but some shots, like the triple cut of Agnes purposefully walking away, pack a punch.

Then the sparring turns to romance, leading into soap opera scheming. Agnes stops being interesting, Maurice continues flipping between being unctuous and dismissive, and a scheme is hatched. There is a trip to the bank to make account arrangements to which no sane person would agree. Later comes a crime (probably) and accusations.

I won't go into detail, but the film makes a jump to a trial decades later. Get ready for bad old-age makeup and narrative confusion. Text at the end of the film reveals that the trial we are shown is but one of several. It is not the most recent, so why spend time building courtroom tension only to immediately inform us that there was a different outcome later?

Of the many collaborations between Techine and Deneuve, In the Name of My Daughter is the weakest.


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.

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