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For Your Consideration: 'L'homme qu'on aimait trop'

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In the Name of My Daughter, directed by André Téchiné
In 1977, Agnès Le Roux disappeared. She was heiress to the family that owned the Palais de la Méditerranée, a luxury hotel-casino on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. She had apparently gone on a trip to Italy for the long Toussaint weekend (around All Saints Day, November 1), with Maurice Agnelet, a man who had been one of her mother's legal advisers and became her lover. Her body was never found, but Agnelet had transferred into his private account all of Le Roux's inheritance, money that he had helped to secure for Le Roux in a deal that helped to force her mother out of the leadership of the Palais. Agnelet has been alternately convicted and exonerated and then convicted again for the next thirty-some years. Another mistress provided him an alibi and then admitted she had lied for him; his own son eventually testified against Agnelet, claiming that his father had told his mother that he had shot Agnès in the head somewhere in Italy; his wife, in turn, denied this claim by her own son. The most recent verdict -- guilty again -- was rendered after French director André Téchiné had shot his latest feature on the story, distributed in the U.S. under the title In the Name of My Daughter.

To no one's surprise, probably, Téchiné, director of Ma saison préférée and Les roseaux sauvages, is not interested in the gory details. In his screenplay, co-written with Cédric Anger and based largely on the book by Agnès's mother and brother, he dissects and slowly, painstakingly examines the relationships among the three principal characters. Catherine Deneuve, a Téchiné favorite, is regal and icy as Renée Le Roux, the mother whose moneyed hauteur distances her from Agnès -- somewhat unconvincingly, she is platinum blonde and with chic cigarette holder in the 1970s portions, graying and walking with a cane in the 2000s, an aging trick that is also a nod to the agelessness of Deneuve herself. Guillaume Canet, now the partner of Marion Cotillard, is smooth and heartless as Agnelet. He is acknowledged, deep into the closing credits, for his part in creating dialogue for his character, the latest example of Téchiné's use of actor improvisation, which he incorporates into the screenplay. Canet's contribution was based in part on his conversations with the real Agnelet: "What is crazy about him is that sometimes you really feel he's guilty," Canet said in one interview, "and sometimes you absolutely don't."

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Julien Hirsch's bright-colored cinematography, the latest of several collaborations with Téchiné, drinks in the wealth and luxury of Nice in the 1970s. The story hinges on the performance of Adèle Haenel as Agnès. A young actress who got her start playing a girl with autism in Christophe Ruggia's Les diables, Haenel is inscrutable in many ways, tough as nails one moment and reduced to humiliation as her love for Agnelet drives her to extreme after extreme. Agnès has traveled the world, in a memorable scene demonstrating an ecstatic dance she learned while living in Africa, but she is also fragile and increasingly deluded. For a stronger actress, it would have been the role of a lifetime, and Haenel gets many things right, while relying too much on smoking cigarettes and her wide-eyed beauty for what could have been a more profound exploration of the character. The film's French title translates to "The man they loved too much," which gets at the heart of the film's theme: something about Haenel's performance and the screenplay does not quite explain that. Perhaps it is too much to ask it to do so.

This film is currently playing at Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema.

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