A fascinating, fact-based thriller from director André Téchiné, In the Name of My Daughter charts the suspicious disappearance of young casino heiress Agnès Le Roux which occurred nearly forty years ago in the south of France.
With one eye on land and another on the sea, there’s something transient about the way Adèle Haenel plays Agnès right from the start as someone perpetually restless and ready to leave.
Like a young girl trapped in the body of a mermaid, throughout Daughter, the heiress is compulsively clad in a bathing suit, whether dressed up to the nines for dinner or clinging to her lover on the back of a motorbike. Always eager to out-swim her troubles, minutes after she gets off a plane in one of her earliest scenes, Agnès Le Roux hits the beach.
Arriving in Nice to finalize a divorce, we soon discover that the daughter of casino owner Renée Le Roux (Catherine Deneuve) has returned home with the goal of breaking free. But after forming a fast friendship with her mother's overly ambitious right hand man, fast-talking lawyer Maurice Agnelet (played by Guillaume Canet), Agnès' desire for liberty is quickly replaced by her desire for Maurice.
Considering just how different the two seem, it’s an unlikely pairing to say the least. Citing fear of an ear infection as the reason he refused to swim with her right from the start, Agnès goes out of her way to reel him in, not understanding that she can’t change the mind of a man determined to keep his head above water without running the risk of going under herself.
Heartbroken when Agnès makes it clear that regardless of what is asked of her she'll be siding with Maurice, Renée promptly fires the man she'd long suspected of trying to take over her job.
Completely under the spell of the serial seducer, Agnès finds herself caught in the midst of a three-way battle between not only Renée and Maurice but also her mother's mafia-aligned rival on the verge of taking over Renée's casino.
Yet while in retrospect we feel for the victim and especially her mother who perhaps knew better than anyone that her daughter was headed for a crash (even if no one could expect how much), Téchiné’s film is still bogged down by the selfish nature of its largely unlikable cast of characters.
Having loved and lost and loved again – like a compulsive gambler ejected from the casino that keeps coming back – Agnès remains not only determined but desperate to keep her dwindling hold on Maurice.
Blind to her mother’s struggles and eager to leave the casino behind, Agnès pressures Renée for her father's inheritance in order to open a boutique. Unwilling to wait until things settle down, not to mention unable to see the forest for the trees, Agnès hires Maurice as her lawyer, promptly letting him talk her into a multi-million dollar betrayal that's the equivalent to World War Three.
Although this was a pivotal moment in the real life case, onscreen, this decision occurs much too quickly out of left field and feels as though a vital scene had been left on the cutting room floor.
Holding us at arm's length, even though it's dramatically compelling, Daughter is ultimately missing the kind of insight into the minds of its coolly detached main characters that a stronger support system of friends and confidantes would've been able to provide.
Still despite a few missteps here and there, the dedication of Daughter's dynamic cast – especially Guillaume Canet’s terrifying turn as the man whom Deneuve's desperate mother believes murdered her daughter – help keeps us riveted throughout.
A chilling psychological portrait of emotional abuse that's occasionally a bit too chilly for its own good, in its strongest moments, In the Name of My Daughter feels like a French variation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy blended with Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Of particular interest to viewers in France and Italy who've followed the infamous the case in the news over the past four decades, nonetheless Daughter is the type of film where the less you know going in the better off you'll be.
With this in mind, although the Cohen Films release has been given a gorgeous transfer to Blu-ray high-definition, viewers should be warned not to read the summary included on the back of the box, since it shockingly reveals more than three fourths (or roughly 95 minutes) of the film's overall plot.
An Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival,while admittedly the film's final act set within the last two decades of the mother's crusade for justice fails to live up to the power and urgency of the rest of the picture, all in all it's well worth tracking down.
Filled with impressive art direction and beautifully shot, In the Name of My Daughter is sure to appeal to amateur sleuths eager to read more about not only the case but also the three trials referenced in the movie's postscript.
While there's enough intrigue in the south of France to have fueled an entire miniseries (especially considering the number of questions we're left with including the role played by the mob) Téchiné’s thriller nonetheless offers viewers a satisfying opportunity to get our feet wet before wandering further into the deep end of its real life mystery.
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