Deneuve at Her Peak, Azabal Takes Off
|Starring:||Catherine Deneuve, Lubna Azabal, Gérard Depardieu|
André Téchiné has turned what in Hollywood might have been used as an exploitative “star vehicle” into something splendidly different. The ads tout the pairing of Catherine Deneuve (who made the first of her 200-plus films, “Les Collegiennes,” 50 years ago) with Gérard Depardieu (who started with “Le Beatnik et le Minet” – true! – in 1965).
But “Changing Times” (“Les Temps qui changent”) is no celebrity parade. Instead, it is a miracle of an intelligent script (Téchiné, with Laurent Guyot and Pascal Bonitzer), realized through a sure directorial touch and memorable performances. There have been precious few literate, masterful shadow plays of reality like this on the screen since Arnaud Desplechin’s “Kings and Queen.”
Characters, relationships, turns of events are all (except one, but there will be no spoiler here) are believable, realistic, even ordinary, and yet mysterious and meaningful. As in life (but not in Hollywood), Téchiné’s photographic images have the richness of fine paintings.
The grand, sophisticated superstructure of “Changing Times” is built on a deceptively simple plot. Depardieu is Antoine, an engineer from Paris, who has long campaigned for a difficult assignment to a huge building project in Tangiers. His purpose is to see his first (and only) love, Cecile (Deneuve), and to pick up where they left off 30 years before.
Neither a tragedy of frustrated passions nor a rose-colored, happy-end comedy, the film highlights brilliantly the conflict between tedious reality (Cecile has a husband, played by Gilbert Melki, and a son, acted by Malik Zidi) and the unblemished magic of unfulfilled yearning.
“Only women love like this,” somebody says of Antoine, the writer of that line perhaps unfamiliar with Tristan, Romeo, Cyrano, or any number of heroically romantic men. What’s fascinating about Antoine is that he is both a hero on an impossible quest and an all-too-real person. Deneuve’s Cecile is both attractive and full of bad moods and manners that should put anyone (but Antoine) off the pursuit.
Deneuve, Depardieu, Melki, Zidi, and Nabila Baraka (playing one of the Zidi character’s two lovers) are wonderful in their individual and ensemble performances, along with a large cast – against a picture-perfect Tangiers that doesn’t look like the city I am familiar with – but the most remarkable performance comes from Lubna Azabal.
This young Belgian-born Arab actress, already familiar from “Paradise Now,” plays both twin Moroccan sisters, the Westernized, drug-addicted lover of Cecile’s son, and a devout, impoverished Moslem woman, working at McDo (that’s what McDonald’s is called there). Relationships of the two women with each other, with others, are wonderfully delineated, as much by silences and omissions as by what is being said. One of the many “grown-up” devices from Téchiné is giving just enough indication for the audience to figure out the possible future of the sisters. Through it all, Azabal is mesmerizing, creating two distinct and unforgettable characters.