Tuesday, April 2, 2019

André Téchiné | L'Homme qu'on aimait (In the Name of My Daughter)

the siren loses her voice
by Douglas Messerli

Cédric Anger, Jean-Charles Le Roux, and André Téchiné (screenplay, based on Une femme face à la Mafia by by Jean-Charles Le Roux and Renée Le Roux), André Téchiné (director) L'Homme qu'on aimait (In the Name of My Daughter) / 2014
French director André Téchiné, over the past few years, has become one of my favorite directors, and I have admired his several films with overtly, yet gentle gay and feminist themes expressed in his earlier works. Alas, in his 2014 work, L'Homme qu'on aimait (In the Name of My Daughter)—although he continues to remain interested in familial relationships—his particular slant on these plots seem much more traditional and, almost, Hollywood based.
   Despite the great presence of Catherine Deneuve (who plays Renée Le Roux, a wealthy Casino owner), who in the first many scenes dominates the film while utterly entrancing us, loses her presence and her plot-driven “grip” on the casino activities when her clearly diffident daughter, Agnès Le Roux, returns to Nice for reasons not completely comprehendible—perhaps simply to serve temporarily to reclaim her position on the board of her mother’s now money-losing business.
      Mostly she swims, isolating herself from the grips of her highly alluring mother; but it is also clear that she has long resented her mother’s dominant presence in all aspects of her life. She soon determines, using some of the money owed her from her father’s will, to open a kind of chic bookstore/gallery—not what anyone might imagine is a possible money-making venture, but simply something that allows her to escape her mother’s powerful tentacles. In her slow-moving watery encounters, she appears like a highly lethargic mermaid, hardly able to look after herself on land.
       Enter her mother’s lawyer and advisor Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), a recently-divorced man who pretends disinterest in his employer’s daughter. He is a kind of Jared Kushner-like figure, always handsomely dressed, most often in suit and tie, and seemingly an almost puritanical being, who doesn’t drink, doesn’t swim, doesn’t have any vices—except the fact that a woman with whom he is currently having an affair attempts to warn the young, and obviously inexperienced Agnès that, despite his polite, almost stand-offish demeanor, he is a significant womanizer.
       Truth be told, Agnelet is worse than that. Despite the gentle hugs his gives his young son, his real love is money, and through sex and more perverse activities he convinces the rebellious Agnès to vote against her mother so that the mafia-connected Jean-Dominique Fratoni might be able to take over Madame Le Roux’s Palais de la Méditerranée, ending her long career.
       Unfortunately, once the single-minded Agnelet has gotten his hands on the extremely passive Agnès, Téchiné’s otherwise well-directed film losses air like a balloon whose helium has suddenly been expelled, as the daughter inexplicably (or perhaps given the greedy demands of Agnelet, not so very inexplicably) disappears. Obviously, she has been killed, evidently thrown to sharks into the very waters in which previously immersed herself with such abandonment. All of her monies have been transferred to Agnelet’s accounts.
       A more agèd Deneuve attempts to restore this movie’s energy, taking on a 20-some year attempt to prove that Maurice killed her daughter. Alas, we can hardly comprehend why Madame Le Roux might even want to undertake these trials “in the name of her daughter,” given the fact that she could only bring herself to visit Agnès’ new enterprise once only, and that concerning her own business concerns.
       In any event, she loses the trial, despite the fact that the “other” woman with whom he was having an affair, testifying against him. Maurice’s son, now an adult, is evidently able to convince the court of his father’s innocence. Only a credit title card informs us that later Maurice was found guilty of Agnès’ death and is sentenced to twenty years in prison. But by that time we hardly care; the hardly likeable Agnès by this time has almost left our memories. And we only sympathize with the now frail and lost former casino operator, wishing almost nostalgically that we might be able, once more, to enter her Palais de la Méditerranée domain.
      She, we suddenly recall, dressed in beautiful golden gowns knew her customers and greeted them as true nobility. Hers was a truly a palace of impossible possibilities; and, evidently, her customers often, too often perhaps, won fortunes within her golden halls. If she might not be a great business woman, she truly was a remarkably forceable siren who drew people into her casino liar as shown in so many other French films by the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Demy, Alain Resnais, and the British director Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps Téchiné’s movie is interesting only because it represents the total decay of those grand-elegant halls of utter deception.

Los Angeles, April 2, 2019
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (April 2019).

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