Against a backdrop of untold luxury, beautiful villas, Mediterranean beaches and shimmering sunlight, a soap-operatic conflict played out in a saga that could fueled several seasons of a cable TV show.
Power plays, the mafia, fixed card games, a daughter who betrays her mother, the daughter’s unsolved disappearance and a decades’ long quest by the mother against her former lawyer and business advisor — what’s not to love here? And it’s all true.
Yet Techiné has done an odd thing: He’s reduced all this to a three-hander, a saga reduced to a chamber piece. In doing so, he takes too much air out of what should be a racy thriller about greed and ambition.
The true-life combatants are: Renée Le Roux, the glamorous ruler of a Nice casino, a worldly lioness watching over her kingdom; Agnès Le Roux, her willful, energetic and defiant daughter, who wants a life that is her own; and Maurice Agnelet, a charming and seductive man 10 years Agnès’ senior looking to rise the world by acting as a facilitator.
What trips Techiné’s plan up though is that he is fracturing a true story, as opposed to crafting a fictional tale. So much of this makes little sense. Pieces are missing; motivations are vague. Then after focusing on what feels like a month or two of melodrama in Nice, the third act suddenly leaps across three decades into a contemporary courtroom for a final verdict.
Not the solution of a mystery, mind you, but a dry legal verdict that resolves nothing in the end.
So you get flashes of a really good melodrama involving a passionate l’amour fou and an epic clash between mother and daughter only for things to blur. Individual scenes come off with seductive grace and coy sensuality only for plot threads to unravel or tear.
At least Techiné has signed up a powerful cast: long-time collaborator Catherine Deneuve as the casino operator, top French star Guillaume Canet as the wily lawyer and the beautiful young actress Adèle Haenel, so impressive in “Love at First Fight,” as the impetuous daughter.
The first hour in the movie, based on the book “Une Femme face à la mafia,” by Renée Le Roux and Jean-Charles Le Roux, is a gripping mixture of the wild, irrational love of a young girl for an older man and a treacherous dance between mother and daughter over her inheritance.
But in the movie’s second half this turns increasingly soapy as vaguely articulated boardroom politics and Riviera alliances come into play forcing Madame Le Roux out of her own casino.
At the focal point of all this is a headstrong Agnès, alternatively wise and foolish. When you first meet her, she dives into the ocean and swims dangerously far out before heading back to shore.
She seems to live her life like this as well, pursuing a man she will never fully possess and fighting a mother who may be overbearing but does have her best interests at heart.
Haenel gives the film its vitality since Canet is content with being simply mysterious — perhaps a better word is opaque — while Deneuve floats through the film majestically whether in proud possession of her beloved casino or bereft with grief for all she has lost.
The parts never seem to come together and in the end you can’t even say what exactly the movie is about. Just look at the different titles the story goes under.
The movie’s English title of course focuses on mother and her lost daughter. The French title, which roughly translates as “The Man Who Was Loved Too Much,” focuses on the conniving attorney and his complicated love life. Meanwhile the actual book’s title pits a mother against the mafia.
So which story is being told? All three in many ways but none gets told well. Indeed other than being forced to take ballet lessons as a youngster, you get little idea of what caused such a titanic strain between Agnés and her proud mother.
Opening: May 15, 2015 (Cohen Media Group)
Production companies: Mars Cinema, VIP Cinéma 1, Caneo Films
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel, Jean Corso, Judith Chemla
Director: André Techiné
Screenwriters: André Techiné, Jean-Charles Le Roux, Cédric Anger
Based on the book by: Renée Le Roux, Jean-Charles Le Roux
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Executive producer: Christine De Jekel
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Production designer: Olivier Radot
Music: Benjamin Biolay
Costume designer: Pascaline Chavanne
Editor: Hervé de Luze
R rating, 116 minutes.