A colorful whirligig which twirls only sporadically, In the Name of My Daughter presents as a thriller about the Riviera casino wars of the 1970s, yet is front-loaded with greed, mother/daughter push-pulls, masochism, and tumbles from power. Campy courtroom testimony reveals French investigations into affairs of the heart other cultures only dream of.
Can such a film be anything other than exciting? Yes. Maybe too many chefs flattened the soufflé, which is based on a single real-life story about a suspiciously missing heiress — cut to sensationalistic French tabloids making book and a buck on the case. Catherine Deneuve is Renée Le Roux, a tyrannical but enthusiastically hands-on boss of the Palais casino, coveted by the Mafia. Director André Téchiné, in his seventh collaboration with Deneuve, goes for emotional rather than graphic violence:
The weapon of choice is the sharp serpent’s tooth of a daughter, Agnès (Adèle Haenel). When Renée refuses her daughter’s inheritance, pent-up resentments are flame-stoked by her business assistant Maurice (a charming male sociopath played by Guillaume Canet), suddenly vicious when not promoted. He keeps Agnès in thrall, and the couple orchestrate a coup against Renée.
Yet Haenel’s empathetic one-note rendering can’t balance out Deneuve’s various incarnations: a power icy platinum blonde decked out in bejeweled orange (another decade’s new black); a dignified graying old woman looking for justice.