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Nice, 1976. Agnès Le Roux, daughter of the owner of the Palais de la Méditerranée, falls in love with a beautiful lawyer ten years his senior Maurice Agnelet. It has other links, she loves to madness. Against a background of war casinos, he connects with Fratoni, sour competitor of his mother, who offers him three million francs to take control of the casino. Agnes accepts but resents his betrayal. Maurice away. After a suicide attempt, the young woman disappears ...Written by
Judging by André Téchiné's 2009 " La fille du RER " and his latest work to-date, " L'homme qu'on aimait trop ", the French director has recently developed an interest for actual events, and more particularly for those produced by duplicity. The two films mentioned have indeed in common to revolve around a person who made big headlines and did so by deceiving others (the former centering on the case of Marie L., a young mythomaniac who, in July 2004, faked an anti-Semitic attack while the latter revolves around the dubious figure of Maurice Agnelet, a lawyer from Nice, ambitious,winsome and charming, but also a crook and probably the murderer of his mistress). But sticking to facts does not necessarily mean that Téchiné has said farewell to what he had specialized in, the illustration of the torments of passion (remember for instance "The Bronte Sisters " and " Wild Reeds "). For in " L'homme qu'on aimait trop ", the director, amongst other things makes a point of depicting a passion, and one of the kind he usually delights in : an overpowering, dark feeling that bonds a troubled heart to another. But the movie being based on a true story, let's begin by considering the facts. They concern the Le Roux affair, from its genesis in the mid 1970s to nowadays. This cause celebre, still pending after 37 years, involves Renée Le Roux, the manager of a luxury casino in financial difficulties; Agnès Le Roux, her daughter in conflict with her; Jean- Maurice Agnelet, a go-getter lawyer close to Renée but who turned against her after becoming Agnès's lover; and Jean-Dominique Fratoni, a mafia boss and Renée's business rival who gained Agnès and Agnelet's support in getting his hands on Mrs. Le Roux's establishment. An undeniably circumvoluted situation but be reassured, Téchiné gets by just fine and his account of the facts is both faithful and crystal clear.
Of course, this is no documentary and Téchiné being Téchiné, his film cannot be just that. It also aims to be a work of art and manages to. To my mind, and contrary to what too many critics have said, "L'homme qu'on aimait trop" HAS style. The director is indeed not content to narrate his (interesting) story he also gives an artistic approach, thus intensifying the viewer's response to what they are shown.
One of his objects being to condemn a world corrupted by money (our world in fact !), André Téchiné achieves it not only through dialogue but through art as well. A brilliant Mediterranean sky too blue to be true, the exceedingly glittering golds of Renée's sumptuous gambling- house, the unashamed hugeness of Fratoni's villa and the splendor of his garden tell more by contrast about moral ugliness than a verbal accusation: the more seductive the images are the more the baseness of this tainted world appears. And there is another field in which Téchiné excels, character study. The Gallic helmer delights in digging into the psyche of his characters and trying, like a detective of the soul, to unlock their mysteries. Does he really find the key to Maurice's childish dream to make it big, to Renée's desperate fight for winning back her daughter's love, to Agnès's consuming rage? Not really, but are these personalities really reducible to mere psychology? At any rate, they are three-dimensional and - accordingly -interesting.
Of these three characters, the one that fascinates the director (and us as well) most is obviously Agnès. At the same time idealistic and greedy, fiercely independent and under the yoke of passionate love, ungrateful to her mother but not devoid of love for her, Agnès, contradiction personified, is the real focus of the film and through the mystery of her troubled character, she joins Téchiné's long list of tormented heroines (from the unbalanced Paulina in "Paulina is Leaving" to the Bronte Sisters to Alice in "Alice and Martin" among others). Embodying her is young Adèle Haenen, an amazing concentrate of vital energy. But the young actress, who is often like a bull in a china shop, also manages to translate effectively the insecurities of her character. Such a mix of bluntness and subtlety, of roughness and insecurity is hardly ever seen. She is surrounded by a solid cast (Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve and the little known Jean Corso, who creates an all too believable Fratoni, and the vivacious Judith Chemla as Zoune, one of Agnelet's mistresses).
Some find the movie overlong, but I personally did not; probably because Téchiné has a sense of tempo: he always cuts a scene at the ideal time, never too early nor too late.
"L'homme qu'on aimait trop" is a worthwhile film, beautiful to look at as well as informative, intriguing and giving food for thought. Recommended.
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