Andre Téchiné’s latest film L’Homme Que L’On Aimait Trop (literally The Man That You Loved Too, though also known as In The Name of My Daughter but advertised here as the comparatively uninspiring French Riviera) was the opening film of the 2014 BFI London Film Festival. It didn’t kick the fortnight off with fireworks – that was saved for the red carpeted The Imitation Game a couple of hours later – but it was a film that was overall a missed opportunity despite almost being salvaged by a few great performances.
The plot centres around Renée Le Roux (played by Catherine Deneuve), the owner of The Palais, a casino in the French Riviera. We pick the story up in 1970s Nice, as her daughter Agnès (Adèle Haenel) arrives home from a long absence. She is met at the airport by Maurice (Guillaume Canet), a man who is part family lawyer and part personal assistant to Renée. The primary reason for her returning appears to be to give her mother’s opinions more backing on the executive board of the casino, but the situation quickly gets complicated when Agnès begins a largely unrequited infatuation with Maurice. Both Agnès and Maurice slowly reveal that they are driven by their own personal agendas and this makes for an interesting triangle of power, greed, love and suspicion.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency for the plot to focus on things that aren’t central to the plot, whilst critical points are overlooked. A key aspect of the plot is a power struggle between members of an executive board of a high-class casino, on which there are some suspicious mafia members pulling the strings. This is a potentially fruitful area that is largely unexploited.
Equally, the period immediately after Agnès eventually betrays her mother is almost completely skipped over and we are left to work out where exactly we are on the time line. Again, later in the film when Agnès disappears we pick the story up with Maurice a couple of months down the line. This is something that is explained about 40 minutes later in the film, but it doesn’t exactly make it easy to follow.
Indeed, the method of storytelling chosen at this point is a montage of newspaper headlines, which is frankly quite lazy. Adèle Haenel’s performance as Agnès heads towards a mental breakdown isn’t very convincing and I never really believed she was in turmoil, perhaps because too little time was spent on this period.
The overall impression is that of a lack of focus and that Andre Téchiné couldn’t decide what the most relevant parts of the story were. Perhaps it was a stylistic choice to underline the fact this mysterious story is still yet to be unravelled and so much is still unknown, but I would sooner have had a story better told.
The final act of the film is set in a courtroom many years down the line. The make-up on Maurice is extraordinary. Unfortunately, they age him by about forty years and Renée only looks about ten years older, despite the fact we are told she has spent the intervening years (22 to be precise) ploughing all her time and money into searching for her daughter. He has allegedly been enjoying his early retirement in Panama. Surely someone on the set realised there was a mismatch here?
I left the cinema feeling like this was a missed opportunity to tell a really interesting story whilst shedding some light on a real-life mystery that is yet to be unravelled. It’s not a disaster, just not quite what it could have been.
L’Homme Que L’On Aimait Trop is released in UK cinemas in 2015.