In the Name of my Daughter is based on the story of a young woman’s disappearance in France, as written by her mother and brother in a memoir about ten years after she had gone missing. André Téchiné, the French director (and co-writer of the screenplay with Cedric Anger, and the brother, Jean-Charles Le Roux) reports that he wanted the film to adhere as closely as possible to the memoir, but with more emphasis on the relationships between the three protagonists: the mother, Renée LeRoux (Deneuve), her daughter Agnés (Haenel), and Agnés’ lover, Maurice Agnelet (Canet).
Early on, it is clear that the mother daughter relationship is strained, complicated by Maurice, who is initially the mother’s attorney for the casino business she owns; but he begins to side with the daughter who is trying to get her mother to release her inheritance from her father. Maurice is already suspicious because he seems to be working a scheme not in Renée’s best interest; and when she elects not to hire him to manage the casino, he turns his attention to Agnés. He is charming and attractive, and even though she has been duly warned about him—including by himself—she willingly enters into an intimate relationship with him, probably, in part, to spite her mother.
In gradual stages, the lives of all three take a tragic turn. There are two trials that take place years apart, and we get postscripts about the final outcome.
I kept thinking this film should be more engrossing than I was experiencing. After thinking about it and seeing the conclusion, I decided that most of the story is too predictable. Based on the dialog and the behavior of the characters, what is about to transpire will not be surprising. We’re given a clue early on when Agnés makes a remark about Maurice’s name (Agnelet, meaning ‘lamb’), and the viewer immediately thinks about a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The plot actually becomes more interesting in the last half hour during the court proceedings, which Téchiné elected to skip over in favor of the emotional/relational details. But it is the court proceedings that are so much more suspenseful, and I would have liked to hear more about the juries’ deliberations and get a better sense of why they ruled the way they did.
Deneuve brings her considerable talent and experience to the character of Rénée—slightly cool with others, unskilled in persuasion, and much more comfortable giving instructions. Haenel plays the role well of a daughter still rather immature, overly needy for warmth and affection, and burning inside about her mother’s authority over her. They have had control struggles dating back even before the time her mother insisted she take ballet and perform for guests when she clearly didn’t want to. Enter a devious, insecure man without scruples who is vindictive when he is slighted. Canet is masterful in playing a handsome Maurice who has no compunction about lying and manipulating to get what he wants. He can be as genteel as it takes so long as things are going his way, but if he encounters obstruction or constraint, he has no problem being abusive.
In the Name of my Daughter is beautifully filmed and shows the south of France at its best. The problem is in the script that gives away too much too soon. In addition, it needed to show more about the trials toward the end. It’s too bad that a story that holds so much promise turns out to be something of a disappointment.
Not exactly a potboiler.
Grade: C- By Donna R. Copeland