Most movies are based on true stories, true events or at the very least, have some root in reality. That’s how the mind works, the moment of inspiration often comes from real experience and then the mind extrapolate outward.
That is why the disclaimer, “Based on a true story” is often so frustrating. Movies, like imagination, are best when they are allowed to run wild. Instead, an adherence to reality shackles a movie, forcing it to never truly blossom the way a writer or director may want it to.
That is problem that lies at the root of In the Name of My Daughter (L’homme qu’on aimait trop), opening Friday at the Landmark Theatre Esquire in Denver. Acclaimed director André Téchiné reunites with actress Catherine Deneuve to bring to the screen an unsolved missing-persons story, a person that doesn’t go missing until the final third of the movie. Instead, In the Name of My Daughter spends an awful lot of time concerned with back-alley dealings, the control of a casino and a running argument over power of attorney.
Opening in 1976, Deneuve plays Renée, the owner of Palais de La Mediterranée casino in Nice. The Palais is a nice resort, but it isn’t doing very well as a casino and Renée is advised to sell it sooner than later. Her daughter, Agnès Le Roux (Adèle Haenel) returns from Africa after her marriage of five years falls apart and tries to get her share out of the Palais in hopes of starting again. Legal matters stand in her way, as does Renée, alluding to the fact that their relationship was testy even before Agnès returned with her tail tucked between her legs.
Filling out the third leg of this unhappy dynamic is Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), Renée’s business advisor and potential lawyer. Maurice eyes Agnès (ten years his junior) and Agnès allows herself to be swept up into his dull and un-enchanting arms. Renée doesn’t take it well, but that might have been Agnès point all along, it’s just too bad that she and Maurice have about as much chemistry as turnips. Yet, she falls madly in love with him, only to have that relationship unravel as well.
Then in 1977, Renée looses the casino and Agnès goes missing, never to be seen from again. Maurice is suspect number one, and Renée tries desperately to prove that either Maurice killed Agnès or paid to have someone kill her. Nothing sticks and *spoiler* Maurice gets off scot-free, until a closing title card informs that in 2014, Maurice was found guilty and condemned to 20 years in jail thanks to his son’s testimony.
Maurice Agnelet was sentenced on April 11, 2014 and Téchiné’s movie was scheduled to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (which ran from May 14-25), leaving Téchiné no time to shoot a proper ending to his movie. It would have helped, but what would have helped even more if Téchiné did not shackle himself to the facts of the case. In the Name of My Daughter is a lush piece of filmmaking that is spectacular to view, but as a movie, it’s a snooze. The culprit is reality, which grounds this work just as it’s ready to take flight.