Dir: Andre Techine. Fr.2004. 98mins.
The title of Andre Techine's new film has an ironicmeaning its makers certainly never intended: times indeed have changed when theFrench star system, as epitomised by the screen reunion of two of France'sbiggest motion picture icons - Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu - havelittle impact on the film's box-office performance at home. Even more ironic:the film has not performed as well as perhaps hoped despite garnering itsdirector and stars some of the finest reviews of their career.
Unfortunately, ChangingTimes is not Techine at his best. Techine is a director who tends to blowhot and cold and this film is somewhere in-between: tepid. However, it doesboast Depardieu's finest performance in a long time, reminding us of theblazing talent the actor has too often left at the studio door in recent years.If nothing else, Techine deserves gratitude for helping Depardieu recharge hisbatteries.
It may, however, enjoy a newlease of life beyond France when it plays in competition at Berlin next month(Techine's first competition slot at the festival - he has competed at Cannessix times) where the star fatigue may be less pronounced.
Techine, who wrote thescript with Laurent Guyot and Pascal Bonitzer, returns to the fascinating NorthAfrican city, Tangiers, where he set his fine 2001 feature, Loin. Herethe inspiration is somewhat less palpable: centrally, it is the story ofAntoine (Depardieu) a successful French construction engineer, who arrives tosupervise the building of an audiovisual centre.
His real motive, however, isto find and re-conquer the woman who was the first and greatest love of hislife 30 years. But Cecile (Deneuve) has been married to a younger Moroccandoctor (Melki) for more than two decades and for her their great affair is athing of the past. Depardieu persists, Deneuve resists, until a near fatal worksite accident turns the tables in a deus ex machina that doesn't quiteconvince.
The Deneuve-Depardieufacedown - their first together since 1988 - is not the script's entire concernas they also share screen time with a couple of subplots deployed in acontrapuntal manner.
When the film opens Deneuveis at the airport to meet her 20-year-old son Sami (Zidi) who has flown in fromParis for a vacation with his putative girlfriend Nadia (Azabal), a troubledyoung Moroccan emigre with a young son.
Both have ulterior motivesfor being in Tangiers: the bisexual Zidi wants to get it on again with an oldmale lover Bilal (Rachati), and Azabal is hoping to obtain a reconciliationwith her estranged sister Aicha, an tradition-bound Islamist.
Zidi's story isinsignificant. Azabal's has a potential force that beggars the central starromance, though it is inadequately explored.
Depardieu is quietly sensationalas the vulnerable but tenacious, deeply wounded romantic over whose passiontime has had no allaying effect.
Deneuve, who as Techine'smuse has done six films with him - gives an intelligent performance, but neverreally touches us as the former flame who has moved on in life, only to realisein the end that there is a second chance.
Of the supporting cast,Belgian-born Moroccan Azabal, in a double role as both sisters, proves to bethe real acting revelation.
Prod cos: Gemini Films, France 2 Cinema
Int'l sales: Gemini Films
Fr dist: Gemini Films
Prod: Paolo Branco
Scr: Andre Techine, LaurentGuyot, Pascal Bonitzer
Cine: Julien Hirsch
Eds: Martine Giordano
Music: Juliette Garrigues
Main cast: Catherine Deneuve,Gerard Depardieu, Gilbert Melki, Lubna Azabal, Malik Zidi, Nadem Rachati