A famous French unsolved disappearance and a mother’s decades-long search for justice is the focus of “In the Name of My Daughter.” That, as such, is the promise of the title.
But Andre Techine’s ponderous and misshapen tale, told with “poetic license” an opening title tells us, is more about a daughter’s misguided love affair and betrayal than about mom, more about the accused killer’s guilty behavior than his inner life. It is as inconclusive as this endless French court case has proven to be.
Catherine Deneuve is Renee Le Roux, owner of the Palais de la Méditerranée casino in Nice. She welcomes her newly-divorced daughter Agnes (Adele Haenel) home from Africa, where she’d been living, only to learn Agnes wants her inheritance — now.
Mom is barely in control of the casino during a mid-70s economic downturn. The mafia, she is told, is out to get it. They already control the other casinos along that coast, she is also told.
And the person telling her all this is her hustling, blunt-talking legal advisor, Maurice Agnelet, played with a poker-faced impatience by Guillaume Canet of “Farewell”).
Renee never really trusts Maurice, despite his many services for her. He’s shifty, a guy who tape records conversations in a French version of what in America would be recognized as CYA behavior.
Agnes is smitten. But he keeps his emotional distance. The daughter should be on her guard, especially when Maurice’s other lover warns her, “He beds everyone, in the end.”
Of course he does, and that’s a tipping point for the Palais board of directors. Mom gets voted out, and in a heartbeat — the casino is closed, Maurice distances himself from Agnes, Agnes attempts suicide, and then Agnes disappears.
Techine (“The Girl on the Train”) spends so much time setting up the love affair and betrayal that he has nothing left for the mother’s deepening, maddening conviction that Agnelet has gotten away with murder. That’s the movie here, not the endless details of love, sex and motive that eat up most of the screen time.
“In the Name of My Daughter,” in French with English subtitles, never creates empathy for any character, never picks up enough speed to draw us in. Lacking a smoking gun, this Riviera-set crime thriller lacks both thrills and convincing evidence of a crime. “Poetic license” or not, that doesn’t add up to an engrossing film.
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve, Adèle Haenel
Credits: Directed by Andre Techine, script by Cedric Anger and Andre Techine. A Cohen Media release.
Running time: 1:52