In the films of French writer-director André Téchiné (My Favorite Season, Wild Reeds), human nature is a source of endless mystery. His characters change their lives in ways that surprise even them and, because his stories typically take place over months or years, often go through multiple changes, ending up as different people. Téchiné's view of people as inherently volatile extends to his depiction of sexuality; his characters often have sex—and sometimes fall in love—unexpectedly, acting on impulses they can't explain. In a Téchiné film, being alive seems exhilarating and a little scary; one senses that anything, good or bad, could happen at any time.
The real-life mystery of Agnés Le Roux, a casino heiress who vanished in 1977 at age 29, seems like something Téchiné might have concocted himself. In the year before her disappearance, Le Roux became romantically involved with her mother's lawyer, Maurice Agnelet, a married man known for his philandering. Acting on his recommendation, she used her vote on the board of her family's business to oust her mother from control of the operation, thus leaving it open to takeover by a mobster then buying up casinos on the French Riviera. As imagined by Téchiné and his cowriters (who include Agnés's brother, Charles Le Roux), the young woman was so enthralled by Agnelet that she went mad, driving him to desperate behavior. He would later stand trial on the charge of having murdered her.
In the Name of My Daughter focuses on the intense relationship between Agnés (Adèle Haenel) and Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), presenting the outcome of their affair as an afterthought. For Téchiné the great mystery of Agnés's story lies not in her disappearance but in her desire for a cad who didn't return her feelings. She's driven by a swirl of emotions: sexual curiosity, hunger for self-destruction, and resentment of her controlling mother (Catherine Deneuve in her seventh collaboration with Téchiné). Haenel conveys the young woman's mix of self-confidence and acute vulnerability, and Canet underplays the role of Agnelet so that one concentrates not on his charm but on the feelings he arouses in others. What transpires between Agnés, Agnelet, and the mother is too complicated to be described as a triangle—in this densely realized drama, it seems more like a gordian knot. v