Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In the Name of My Daughter (2015)

Film: In the Name of My Daughter (2015)
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel
Director: Andre Techine
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I frequently wonder what happens when other countries get our Lifetime movies and don't have a clue about someone like Jodi Arias or Scott Peterson.  I suspect (I don't really watch these Lifetime movies, but have enough context to make an assumption) that they gloss over some of the details of the actual trial and why someone was found guilty or innocent mostly because everyone in the United States, thanks to tabloid media and Nancy Grace, cannot escape knowing every detail of these crimes.  However, these movies will come in as lacking in other countries principally because they presumably don't have that automatic context.  That was how I felt during In the Name of My Daughter, a film based on the famed Agnes Le Roux case of the 1970's, which is quite famous in France but doesn't really translate here automatically in the consciousness.  As a result, the ending in particular felt rushed and a little bit questionable based on the evidence provided previously in the film, making the movie, which occasionally was quite fascinating, a disappointment.

(Spoilers Ahead) The story itself is utterly fascinating, and would have made a stupendous article in Vanity Fair.  A young heiress named Agnes (Haenel) is seduced by a handsome lawyer Agnelet (Canet) and tricked into voting against her mother Renee (Deneuve) in a power play for a rival to gain control of Renee's casino; in return for voting against Renee as the casino's manager Agnes gains access to 3 million francs, which in turn she has in a joint bank account with Agnelet.  Renee is convinced that Agnelet is doing this to spite her, as he didn't receive a promotion that he had been hoping for from him, but she soon realizes that her daughter has been completely seduced by Agnelet and appears unhinged in a Fatal Attraction-style series of scenes.  The film is humming along by the time that Agnes, after a suicide attempt, vanishes and Agnelet eventually claims the 3 million francs as solely his own.

The problem with the movie is that it cannot handle this moment in the story at all.  Up until this point it's a dangerous game of who-is-seducing-whom, with Agnelet's world unraveling (he is a married man with two different mistresses and a failing law firm-he needs the money desperately but can't handle Agnes' adoration and obsession), and one wonders if he will resort to murder.  However, perhaps to avoid a libel suit, the film never actually gives its full opinion over whether or not Agnelet committed the crime, and in fact is very fuzzy over whether or not a homicide even was committed.  We see him go to court years later, and perhaps it is just my American justice centric brain coming into play, but one wonders how it's possible that they even went to trial without evidence of a murder or a body (anyone who has heard a Law & Order ADA give a soliloquy always states that you can't convict someone just for having a motive).  Agnes' body in the film is never found and it's never so much as confirmed that she's murdered, much less that Agnelet did anything other than want her dead.  It's an interesting case, and one that feels like huge clues are missing either in the film or in what happened post production to get him jailed.  With these missing clues, I felt like I had missed out on what clearly was an interesting story and might have been a fascinating movie.

That being said, the performances were all solid.  I loved what Haenel did with Agnes, making her initially just a spoiled rich girl, and then eventually watching what a lifetime of getting "yes" and "of course" said to her did to her when she was presented with something she couldn't have in Agnelet.  Catherine Deneuve doesn't get a lot to do, but her iciness and general poise add levels to Renee that you weren't expecting.  And Canet is appropriately sexy/seductive as Agnelet, never coming across as someone who is clearly using his charm to gain the upper-hand, but you always find yourself drawn to him.  These performances are better than the writing would typically allow, and add a layer the plotting is lacking.

Those are my thoughts on this recent French thriller-how about yours?  Were you familiar with the Agnes Le Roux case, and did you think the film did it justice?  And if you are one of our international readers, what are your thoughts when you come across an American-centric Lifetime-style movie-does it frequently feel like you need more context?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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