André Téchiné consistently brings a tender attention to human suffering throughout his oeuvre, perhaps best rendered in the 2007 masterpiece The Witnesses. His latest is In the Name of My Daughter, based on the 1989 book by Reneé Le Roux, an adaptation that’s too worried about narrative fidelity and formal objectivity to pierce the veil of power dynamics that largely comprises the film’s concerns. Téchiné takes the real-life events of a 1976 missing-persons case in the French Riviera and churns it into a modest presentation of filial betrayals and realized sexual passions while hedging the film’s aesthetic interests somewhere between droll and conventional.
The first half dutifully introduces all of the major players, as Reneé (Catherine Deneuve), the wealthy owner of a casino, has sent Maurice (Guillame Canet), her lawyer, to the airport to retrieve her daughter, Agnès (Adèle Haenel), whose life is in public shambles following a recent divorce. Téchiné has fun with these initial interactions between Agnès and Maurice, framing them in tight proximity to one another as they share a cigarette and take a swim, without overtly sexualizing the encounter. Agnès wants to sell her shares in her mother’s casino, seemingly as a slight to the woman whom she sees as having shackled her to a forced identity for the duration of her privileged upbringing. Yet Téchiné takes caution not to assert explicit psychological motivations, while carefully having characters either make claims about themselves or others. For example, when Maurice tells Agnès that he’s “never been one for sporty girls,” the statement is less an admission than a revelation of Maurice’s capacity for manipulation, as he’s most certainly interested in Agnès, whether she’s sporty or not. These details almost wisp away without attention, as does a moment when Maurice is reading a book by André Gide on a beach. Téchiné seemingly includes these elements as textures rather than foregrounded points for constructing a thriller, which In the Name of My Daughter could be called by plot description only.
Effectively, Maurice convinces Agnès to sell her shares to Fratoni (Jean Corso), a mafioso with a beachside townhouse. Through a further bit of manipulation, the entire casino ends up in Fratoni’s hands, with Agnès and Maurice now full-blown lovers, which Téchiné depicts with little interest beyond having them run into the woods and hump against a tree. The lack of imagination in a moment like that is contrasted with an earlier, lengthy scene, in which Agnès dances to African tribal music inside of her apartment, with Maurice simply standing and watching for the duration. Here Téchiné’s demonstrates a capacity for problematizing gender dynamics, where Maurice’s objectification of Agnès is complicated by a sense that he may have a sincere and genuine interest in her well-being. Likewise, a long sequence set at Fratoni’s home, with a single, mobile take traversing the outdoor dining area, manages to be both kinetic and stabilizing, as the mobility of the camera is contrasted with the burgeoning certainty of a bond between Agnès and Maurice.
The final 20 minutes, however, completely stagnate In the Name of My Daughter’s mysteries through a “thirty years later” epilogue that operates as if out of narrative obligation rather than necessity. With the characters standing in courtrooms and exchanging concerted glances, Téchiné makes little meaning out of this addition beyond getting to have a verdict read and then, with intertitles, the further outcomes of the case revealed. For a film finely attuned at times to ways deceit and sexual passions can be fatefully misunderstood, it tacks on a “just the facts” ending which has none of that.