J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Téchiné’s In the Name of My Daughter

What was a classy lady like Renée Le Roux doing running a casino in Nice? Unfortunately, she did not have much time at the helm of the Palais de la Méditerranée before getting forced out by the Mafia. Pardon, make that: eased out by a rival casino operator with reputed underworld ties. It would be a bitter defeat for Madame Le Roux, costing her far more than control over the casino. André Téchiné adapts her memoir of the so-called “Nice Casino War,” but he de-emphasizes the Scorsese-esque elements throughout In the Names of My Daughter (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The Palais was once tightly held by the Le Roux family, but when Madame Le Roux assumed the directorship of the casino, they barely retained a fifty-one percent stake. Many of the minor shareholders were opposed to her appointment, requiring her slightly estranged daughter Agnès to duly vote in favor of her mum. It was a victory orchestrated by her legal advisor Maurice Agnelet, who made something of an impression on the recently divorced Agnès. He happens to be married, but that does not mean much to either of them. Frankly, he is not nearly as attracted to her as she is to him. However, when Madame Le Roux refuses to appoint him as her general manager, he starts manipulating her daughter (and her shares) to extract revenge.

The daughter will indeed betray the mother, but from that point on, the chain of events gets mysteriously murky and tragic. Agnelet will ultimately face trial three times, yet Téchiné prefers to handle such dramatic red meat in the film’s postscript. Arguably, the intrigue and duplicity of the Casino War could have challenged the gangsterism of Cédric Jimenez’s The Connection, but Téchiné prefers to zero-in on the emotionally fraught mother-daughter relationship. The screenplay co-written by Jean-Charles Le Roux, who excised himself and his brothers from the picture, focuses on his anguished mother rather than the defiant Angelet.

Nobody can lord over an elegant old-money casino like Catherine Deneuve. If you had shares in the Palais, you would vote with her too. Despite some unnecessary passage-of-time makeup, she rock-solidly anchors the film as Madame Le Roux. She instantly suggests a sense of Le Roux’s comfort in this exclusive world, as well as the long and thorny history she shares with both her daughter and former advisor. Guillaume Canet’s Agnelet is not exactly flashy, but he is convincingly cold-blooded, thin-skinned, and borderline sociopathic. On the other hand, Adèle Haenel’s turn as Agnès, the needy hipster, often rings hollow, sounds flat, or some such metaphor, but as you might surmise from the title, she will not be around for the closing credits.

The seductive and captivating thing about Téchiné films like Thieves and Unforgivable is the way they incorporate thriller elements while skirting the boundaries of genre cinema. Yet, it becomes almost perverse in the case of the Casino War and the three resulting murder trials. Nonetheless, Téchiné pulls viewers into the story and through the film with a strong directorial hand that characteristically feels deceptively light. Recommended in spite and because of his auteurist idiosyncrasies, In the Name of My Daughter opens this Friday (5/15) in New York, at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

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