As evidenced by the success of radio’s Serial and TV’s The Jinx (like anybody consumes things on radio or TV any more, amirite?), our collective taste for true-crime stories remains boundless. If murder is on the menu, so much the better. Which means that veteran filmmaker Andre Techine (The Girl on the Train) ought to have a foolproof picture with this dramatization of a tantalizing real-life mystery. The case is better known in Europe than in the U.S., but that shouldn’t matter much—and like The Jinx, it involves wealth, decades of unanswered questions, and a missing woman who is yet to be found.
Thing is, Techine’s approach feels designed to smother the breathless melodrama of Serial and The Jinx. The movie sets the hook just fine, sketching its three central characters and their 1970s Riviera world of money, the Mafia, and casinos. A directionless young woman, Agnes (Adele Haenel), returns to the south of France to claim her inheritance from her mother, the formidable casino operator Renee Le Roux (Catherine Deneuve). Madame Le Roux is trying to ease her slick lawyer, Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), out of the business. He will not go away quietly, and this playboy finds Agnes a ripe target for his seductive talents. Most of this plays as a backroom drama, where the machinations of the casino biz blend with charged family dynamics to create an absorbing high-stakes poker game.
Engrossing material, with a very watchable trio—as in other recent roles, Deneuve brings out the matronly side of her chic personality, and Canet (also a director, notably of Tell No One) taps into the creepy careerist hiding just beneath his amiable looks. Those two are established Euro-icons, but Haenel, an intense rising star, holds her own. The longer the film goes on, the less inclined Techine is to explain key events, or even include what would seem to be crucial plot points. (Information delivered in the final credits makes you wonder why these tasty-sounding scenes weren’t dramatized and included in the film itself.) A certain amount of this elliptical storytelling is justified, as there are things about the case that nobody knows, or nobody’s talking about. The unresolved mystery seems to suit Techine just fine. Apparently he wants to remind us that we can’t ever know all the answers—something we have to accept, given that the case (ongoing even after the movie was completed) continues to mystify.
IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER Opens Fri., May 22 at Seven Gables. Rated R. 116 minutes.