|Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:|
Lonely Planet Romania & Moldova
(aka, Les Temps qui changent)
It could be said that a family is a tree with many branches. But few have branches quite so twisted away from the familiar or the comfortable as the one grown here by French director Andre Techine. What could he have had in mind? Could it be drama?
The setting is the city of Tangiers in Morocco. The matriarch of the family is quite modern Cecile (Catherine Deneuve) who realizes how fortunate she is to have as fulfilling and creative a job as she has hosting an evening radio show, playing love songs and reading romantic dedications for the French part of the audience. Her husband Nathan (Gilbert Melki) is a doctor from Casablanca, where they met, who is struggling financially from a declining list of patients. The strain between the two is the question of having to return to his home town to relieve the financial stress with her not wanting to give up her job.
Into this domestic issue comes their son Sami (Malik Zidi), arriving from Paris with his nominal partner Nadia (Lubna Azabal) a good looking exotic, and her 9-year old son, Said. Mom's not ready for the sudden appearance but she goes with the flow. Which is good, because it isn't going to be moving along expected channels.
Nadia came to Tangiers in the hope of reuniting with her twin sister Aicha, a determined spinster working at a "Mac-Do" and happy in her reclusiveness. The shock for Nadia is not only in not being able to stay with her sister, but in Aicha's unwillingness to even see her. While this conflict of intentions is playing out, Sami is pursuing a romance that has nothing to do with Nadia -- a boy he's been pining for and the real reason he's come for a home visit.
Then comes the outsider wanting to do a little pruning to the tree. He is Antoine (Gerard Depardieu), a highly successful construction engineer based in Paris but with assignments far and wide. By his own design and considerable pulling of strings, he has engineered an assignment, at last, to a project in Cecile's town. This is a man who has lived up to his childhood declaration to follow his beloved to the ends of the earth and be faithful into old age. Only she's long since forgotten him.
Once, however, he gets over the initial fears of revealing his presence and his intentions, things take off in entirely expressive ways with a little comedic self-effacement thrown in. In a moment of blatant and daring openness, the suitor tells the husband exactly what he's been up to regarding his wife, and the scene does not generate into an operatic climax, though it does set the stage for ensuing developments.
Perhaps the thing that sets this scenario apart from many another family-in-crisis movie is in its 21st century situations that have a ring of familiarity, even while the central issue is a fairy tale of Harlequin novel dimensions. Techine mixes it up well enough to keep the pot boiling while holding it from steaming over into the ridiculous, while two aging actors demonstrate finely honed instincts borne of a lifetime of 1st rate craftsmanship. The result is an adult treatment of marriage and courtship that, while not exactly a must-see, is a surprising entertainment for the mature among us who are willing to allow for some immaturity.