Changing Times (Les Temps Qui Changent): Techine’s Fourth Film with Catherine Deneuve

Andre Techine’s Changing Times, his fourth collaboration with Catherine Deneuve, features blunt, pragmatic individuals who tend to blame their inability to connect on circumstances that are beyond their control.

A master of crafting ordinary moments into an exhilarating film, Techine has assembled a great cast of French actors, such as Gerard Depardieu, who add even more life-like dimension to the film.

Depardieu plays Antoine, an engineer who travels from Europe to Tangiers to oversee a construction project and, more importantly, to track down his lover from thirty years ago, Cecile (Deneuve). Unfortunately Cecile, whose displays of affection are limited, is not the type of woman who is easily swept off her feet. By far the happiest character in the movie, Antoine, a romantic extremist and believer in miracles, finds himself in the midst of an existential maelstrom.

Arriving at the airport to pick up her son Sami (Malik Zidi), Cecile is angry that he has not told her he was bringing along his girlfriend Nadia (Lubna Azabal from Paradise Now). Cecile proceeds to spend most of Samis visit demanding to know why he doesnt spend more time with her, although the time they spend together isnt exactly quality time; in one conversation, they scream at each other over car horns during a traffic jam.

Ceciles husband Nathan (Gilbert Melki) is the complete opposite of Cecile, an amiable doctor who inspects patients in his swim trunks when he feels too lazy to get dressed. Though love is clearly gone from their marriage, it doesn’t seem to bother either of them. Ironically, Cecile hosts a radio show that specializes in love songs and romantic dedications, a job she calls monotonous.

A devout listener of her show, Antoine rehearses words of adoration to Cecile in his hotel room. When he finally gets the opportunity to address Cecile in person, his preparation proves fruitless as he crashes into a glass door. While this scenario has been played for laughs in countless romantic comedies, Depardieu conveys an earnest desperation that makes the scene almost tragic.

Antoine doesn’t live in a world where his love interest will let down her guard and fall into his arms. Instead, he lives in a world where everyone but himself sees love as a mythic, movieish construction.

Depardieus performance is so painfully transparent that it causes us to forget the charming foppishness normally associated with hopeless romantics; his behavior is no display but the real deal. When he tells Cecile that he wants to grow old with her, he genuinely believes in the sincerity of his line, which is at once pathetic and heartbreaking.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

Though better-known for playing icy women (Repulsion, Belle de jour), in this film, Catherine Denueve’s abrasiveness is softened by a withholding quality, as if she wants to return Antoines affection but her harsh words keep steering her in the wrong direction. Deneuves performance is key to the movies success, lending weight to her dialogue that makes Ceciles enigmatic behavior more understandable, even empathetic. When Cecile tells a friend that her days with Antoine in the past were filled with a love and desire Id never known, she says it bitterly, and suddenly everything becomes clear.

Relentless, when Antoine fails to win Cecile over by sending her roses, he takes up witchcraft so that he can cast a love spell. These scenes display lyricism, which is set apart from the movie’s otherwise unsentimental tone, insisting on the kind of magic that reality is incapable of providing.

The other characters embrace cold, inevitable truths. Nadias twin sister (also played by Azabal, who’s barely recognizable), a devout Muslim, wants nothing to do with her Westernized sister. Samis flings with his former gay lover are strictly sexual, while Samis relationship with Nadia contains neither love nor sex.

Through these honest portrayals, Techine shows how people possess neither the capacity nor the initiative to undergo major character arcs. That said, they might still behave in ways that go against character, surprising themselves and the audience. As noted, these moments arrive naturally and spontaneously, not out of a director’s sense of obligation to make us feel good.