In the Name of My Daughter has a distinguished director (André Téchiné), a legendary star (Catherine Deneuve) and an unsolved mystery at its core. Based on the memoir of a former casino owner who challenged the mafia and lost a loved one in the process, the film is about sex, wealth and power. It has all the right ingredients for a sleek thriller but it comes together like half-baked baguette. With its heavy moods and unpredictable leaps in time, In the Name of My Daughter is tale of disorganized crime.

Deneuve is Renée Le Roux, the czarina of a gilded casino on the French Riviera. With the help of her canny lawyer, Maurice (Guillaume Canet), Renée safeguards the casino from takeover while rising in stature on the Riviera. Maurice is a confident advisor, but he turns out to be Richard III in a bespoke suit. When Renée passes him over for a promotion, Maurice leverages influence through Agnès (Adèle Haenel), Renée’s daughter. Newly divorced and unsure about her future, Agnes is seeking solace in something, or someone. It’s Agnes, puffy-eyed and passionate, that Maurice uses as an instrument in his Shakespearean grab for power.

Despite Maurice being a pathological philanderer, Agnès falls for him. Téchiné does too. Excusing his ego and backhanded calculations, Téchiné glorifies Maurice’s stoic masculinity. Agnès and Maurice can’t keep their hands off each other and in multiple sex scenes, his virility is thrown into particularly admiring light. Agnès lusts for Maurice with the carnality of a wild animal but Téchiné allows him to stand behind a wall of cold logic. His motivation is money, not love.

It’s hard to tell whether In the Name of My Daughter is about a failed romance or a failed business. The final act of the film switches gears altogether. Jumping from 1976 to 2006, it becomes a mournful courtroom drama. With the opulence gone, Renée’s character gains a tragic dimension. The mother who treated her daughter with stoicism evolves into a symbol of maternal regret. When Maurice appears as an older man under layers of makeup that look more like frosting than skin, he’s unchanged. A stranger asks for a picture and Maurice smiles with smug superiority. It’s hard to say whether the film is a critique of male chauvinism or an endorsement of it.

Whereas Maurice and Renée are driven by reason, Agnès is guided by instinct, and the result is explosive. The beautiful Haenel gives a dynamic performance but it’s Deneuve who leaves the most indelible imprint. She’s a cinema icon and her regal performance presents a woman who knows who she is, on screen and off. Whether walking under the casino’s chandeliers or seated in a drab courtroom corridor, she is proud, but also unknowable.

With its origins in a real life murder trial, In the Name of My Daughter promises more than it delivers. The machinations of the casino war are surprisingly stagnant; there’s only so much excitement to be had in the signing of a legal document. The film is punctuated by provocative moments, like when Agnès dances to an African drum or a Mafia boss breaks into song, but these moments are fleeting. For all its pomp and ambition, In the Name of My Daughter remains leaden. The film’s defeatist ethos is especially draining. In the end, the film says, women in power are doomed to fail and it’s the men, selfish and aggressive, who get away with murder – literally.

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