Monthly Archives: May 2015

Jump or pushed? André Téchiné and In the Name of My Daughter

Last year French courts wrote presumably the last chapter in what’s known as l’affaire Le Roux. But don’t count on it. The question remains: did Maurice Agnelet kill or have a part in killing twenty-eight-year-old heiress Agnès La Roux in 1977? It took three trials to finally sentence Agnelet, 76, for a crime based on evidence that, according to this American skeptic, looks no more than circumstantial, thanks to the way he persuaded Agnès, his lover at the time, to vote against her mother Renée (Catherine Deneuve) at a board meeting, thus permitting the ailing casino of which Renée was in charge to pass to Dominique Fratoni, who may have had mafia connections.

Watching In the Name of My Daughter, the audience is no closer to knowing the truth. That’s the good news. Andre Téchiné has in fact never moved with such confidence over such a sweep of evidence; he and Hervé de Luze’s editing delineates what matters in quick bold strokes, like skilled prosecutors who know what evidence will resonate with a jury. The director of the great Wild Reeds and The Witnesses loves photographing actors in water and wood, and in Adèle Haenel he has cast an actress whose mercurial bursts of temper as Agnès darken what F. Scott Fitzgerald called the blue honey of the Mediterranean in which she loves to swim. In the Name of My Daughter is above all a sun-dappled film, redolent of a period when the Nice coastline boasted casinos carved from palazzos and no man or woman interacted with at least two packs of Marlboro Reds handy.

I said Téchiné was like a prosecutor, but he isn’t one. As in the 2012 thriller Unforgivable and the muddled The Girl on the Train from 2010, Téchiné demonstrates his fealty to the Jean Renoir school of dramatic presentation: “The real hell of life is everyone has his reasons.” The dowager executive Renée, at home with American millionaires and bullshitting over omelets and wine with her Italian chauffeur, is remote as both businesswoman and mother, but “remote” doesn’t mean unfeeling either — she’s proud, not regal. She retains Maurice as lawyer because he’s a Mr. Fix-It who reads contracts. Maurice is himself hard to read for the first third. A womanizer whose body language and comfort in his living space adduce his love for his son and home, he’s also tentative and klutzy, used to being the one pursued and still astonished when it happens. In his fuck-awful brown suits and wide collars and undistinguished features (an illustrated dictionary would publish his photo next to “bureaucrat”) he’s an unlikely object of desire. But he’s the only character who doesn’t lie to himself or others. “Don’t love me too much or I’ll freeze,” he warns Agnès at the start of their tryst. She does, and he does.

In the Name of My Daughter falters in its last third when Téchiné’s co-scenarists recreate Maurice’s trial thirty years later. I’ve read reviews criticizing the makeup as if that’s the problem (Deneuve looks fine). The movie should have ended with Agnès’ final letter, composed after a failed suicide attempt whose denouement persuades her that Maurice meant what he said about not loving him. But it’s a tribute to Adèle Haenel that Agnès isn’t presented as a spitfire. Resenting her mother for not treating her enough as an adult to give her the casino shares she’s wanted to buy a collectibles shop, infuriated that she’s needed on the casino governing board as a permanent vote on Renee’s side, Agnès is smart enough to keep her distance from the politics but too confident in her ability to survive an affair with a man who insists — sensibly — on holding her to the terms to which they agreed at the start; she’s a woman who knows she should know better. Her director doesn’t define her through expository dialogue; she’s a whirling dervish. From the first scene, when she orders Maurice to stop the car at the beach so she can take a late afternoon dip, snatching a lit cigarette from his mouth, to an interpretative “African” dance in the shop (shades of Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim), she’s pure kinetics. From the proximity of his camera Téchiné must love her.

A veteran of Téchiné movies like My Favorite Season, Catherine Deneuve owns the part of an unassuming woman of the world. These days she’s an actress instead of a fascinating camera object, but she hasn’t forgotten that she is a fascinating camera object. Starting with Kings and Queen and continuing through Potiche and On My Way, she’s been the least pampered and least affected diva in modern movies. I love how she hasn’t given up smoking and drinking heavily; she’s a bawd. As Renée, Deneuve gives a study of a career woman of mediocre talent who has glided on charm and who might have been more than that fifteen years later. Lighting cigarette after cigarette (Deneuve may accept parts that allow her to smoke in character), dressed in sumptuous apricot garnished with black ivory necklaces, she looks ravishing, and, more surprisingly, she makes her affection for Agnès clear from their first scene: she can’t resist petting her head or pulling her against her breast. If the troublesome last quarter has any power, she gets the credit.

Téchiné gives Deneuve her own spontaneous outburst. On her desultory last ride from the casino to her home she and Maurice sing along to an Italian version of “Stand By Me” on the radio. In the Name of My Daughter is full of sequences like this. A shame about that last quarter — maybe audiences can walk out? I suspect it will matter less on second viewing.

‘The only trouble with being a woman my age is the men my age’

An original: a woman whose second single topped the country chart and debut album got certified platinum in her forties. The songwriter who hustled in Manhattan for years didn’t try to be anything than what she was; there’s a reason why women who have never heard K.T. Oslin or her song know what “’80s Ladies” means. A man serious about a career needn’t consider his looks; a woman serious about a career can’t stop being judged by them. And her lusts — well. Like Delta Burke on “Designing Women” and Rue McClanahan in “Golden Girls,” the women in Oslin’s songs take those lusts so seriously that they require a laugh at their own expense, although she reserve the bigger laughs for the shit she reads in magazines about sexual peaks (a year later she’ll realize others take that shit seriously). The chugging guitars of “Younger Men” would not have surprised fans of Rosanne Cash’s “Never Gonna Hurt”, but her vocal range might have; those high doubletracked harmonies are a second guitar. Would’ve been fun to imagine Oslin in the Shania Twain era that she presaged.

What oppo research looks like

The first speaker of the House who wasn’t a name on the 6:30 news was Tom Foley. During State of the Union addresses I wasn’t sure whether he or George H.W. Bush looked more bored. I remember the homo rumors floated. As Dennis Hastert’s past become more clear, Digby posts a Foley-related story that shows the effectiveness of ratfucking:

Just as Foley was poised to take the gavel from departing Speaker Jim Wright’s hand, a memo from the Republican National Committee was circulating to state party chairmen and G.O.P. Congressmen. Titled “Tom Foley: Out of the Liberal Closet,” the memo compared his voting record with that of Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, an acknowledged homosexual. For days, an aide to Republican minority whip Newt Gingrich had been calling more than a dozen reporters trying to get the homosexuality rumor into print…

… Democrats like Beryl Anthony of Arkansas contend that this is another episode in the “bad employee-good superior” political mud wrestling that Atwater perfected during the campaign. Staffers, encouraged by their bosses, go on the attack, then — like a corps of civilian Ollie Norths — take the blame and are publicly rebuked. The superiors apologize.

Yet by the time Atwater and Gingrich apologized, the rumor had achieved its purpose. Foley was forced to deny it both on national television and before a party caucus. One Democrat at the meeting said that all around him eyes were averted when Foley, married 20 years and with the bearing and rectitude of a parish priest, had to assure his colleagues he was not a homosexual.

The shame associated with homosexuality has faded. But let me mention that Hastert supported the Defense of Marriage Act among other dreadfuls, as Barney Frank reminds readers in the clip above. I won’t get into defending Bill Clinton though.

Singles 5/29

A week when Eurovision nominees dominated squelched discussion of Taylor Swift’s third #1 from 1989 and worst single since “Everything Has Changed,” not to mention Kendrick Lamar’s first #1 of any kind (call it his “Heartbreaker“). Most of those nominees left me cold. I was more interested in rediscovering Nicki’s casually superlative performance on “Feeling Myself” held up and whether Beyonce was all that (answers: hell yes; no, but I dig her giggle-snort). My favorite this week was another rap long on personality and presentation. Good to have you back, Mystikal. I’d like you to meet Mr. Santos.

Click on links for full reviews.

Mark Ronson ft. Mystikal – Feel Right (7)
Romeo Santos – Hilito (7)
Nicki Minaj ft. Beyoncé – Feeling Myself (6)
Feder ft. Lyse – Goodbye (5)
Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar – Bad Blood (Remix) (4)
Andrew Bayer ft. Asbjørn – Super Human
Tyler Farr – A Guy Walks Into a Bar (3)
Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes (3)
Cheat Codes ft. Evan Gartner – Adventure (2)
Canaan Smith – Love You Like That (2)
David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha & Afrojack – Hey Mama (2)

Bernie Sanders’ war on women

After Mother Jonespublication of his incoherent doggerel about women and sex from two decades ago, Bernie Sanders and his subsequent disgusting record on women deserves scrutiny:

In 2003, Sanders was among 32 co-sponsors of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a measure to “establish a zero-tolerance standard” for sexual violence in prison. (The measure passed unanimously, but enforcement has been weak in the last decade.)

In 2011, Sanders co-sponsored a measure to address the rape kit backlog. Here’s how Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another of the bill’s co-sponsors, explained the measure: ”Thousands of rape kits sit untested in police storage facilities nationwide. This is lost justice for rape victims. Testing DNA evidence in rape kits is a crucial tool to help law enforcement arrest and prosecute rapists. The Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act will make sure that victims are no longer denied the necessary tools for justice.”

In 2012, Sanders co-sponsored the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Here’s how he explained that vote: “The act has been extremely successful in Vermont and across the country. While we are reducing the incidence of domestic violence, much more has to be done. Too many girls and women are still suffering from domestic violence and sexual abuse and that must end.”

In 2013, he called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to “step up efforts to provide care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military“ so that they “receive the care and benefits needed to confront the emotional and physical consequences of this horrific experience.”

Yuks aside, that’s how I judge these exposés: do the released documents refute the public record?

The terror of the CD burner

From Dorian Lynskey’s exemplary account of that grandest of hustles, the marketing of the compact disc, as proud a product of late twentieth century capitalism as the Reagan administration:

As the decade wore on, there were tremors of unease. The industry was running out of albums to reissue, battling over price with supermarkets and big-box retailers, and disturbed by the introduction of CD burners. “Arguably, it’s why they missed the MP3, because they were so concerned about compact-disc burners,” says Witt. “If you read corporate literature about forward-facing risks to the business in the late 90s, this is one of the top things they’re talking about, if not the top. And the impact was real. If bootleg discs flood the market they kill sales, no question about it.”

Bootleg CDs were a danger the industry could get its head around – you could hold one in your hand. What it couldn’t comprehend was the threat of the MP3: the idea that music could transcend physical formats. “That happened for two reasons,” says Witt. “One was they were enjoying unbelievable profits. Two, the studio engineers hated the way the MP3 sounded and refused to engage with it. A lot of artists hated the way it sounded, too.” What the audiophiles didn’t realise was that most consumers couldn’t tell the difference. “What was the audio experience before the compact disc?” says Witt. “It was cheap vinyl or an AM transistor radio on the beach, and MP3 sounds better than either of those.”

CD burners! I didn’t know about them until a friend gave several Bob Marley albums to another chum as a birthday present – as blank CD’s. “I burned them,” he explained. I’d never heard the verb. I was still taping stuff and expected to keep doing it. An enterprising soul downloaded Napster to the office server a year later. I burned a mix CD for the same guy who’d received the Marley album. The last cassette I made was in early 2003: I’d compiled a bunch of songs for the car after its player stopped working. About twenty years after the first alarm was sounded, here we were.

Spirals of silence


Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written an invaluable article for The American Propect explaining how the GOP gets rewarded for appalling behavior despite shutdowns, a deviance between its social positions and the voting public’s, odious rhetoric, and bullying:

In a parliamentary system, legislative majorities govern, and those majorities are accountable for the results. Voters know who is governing and how to reward and punish. Our political system instead combines increasingly well-organized, parliamentary-style parties with a division of governmental powers. That dispersal of authority simultaneously makes governing difficult and accountability murky. It also creates opportunities for a party that is willing to cripple the governing process to gain power….

Indeed, the most distinctive and damaging feature of Republicans’ right turn is that they have steadily ramped up the scale, intensity, and sophistication of their attacks on government and the party most closely associated with it. The legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls these tactics “constitutional hardball.” From between-census redistricting to open attempts at Democratic vote suppression, from repeated budget shutdowns to hostage-taking over the debt ceiling, from the routine use of the filibuster to block legislation and nominations to open attempts to cripple executive bodies already authorized by law, the GOP has become, in the apt words of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, “an insurgent outlier in American politics”—a party willing to tear down governance to gain larger majorities in government.

I’ve written about this already. Basic logic dictates that the party of government will wither when government fails. Conversely, when the party of Wall Street lost both houses of Congress and the presidency last decade, it won the House again in 2010 and, other than mild rebukes from Barack Obama on the campaign trial that included the 1 percent meme, hasn’t been the subject of buyer’s remorse. But Democrats can’t attack. They get Wall Street dough too. The eighty-year coalition is gone, its members occasionally showings signs of life.

…Equally important, those who recognize the dangerous implications of extremism are going to have to make a concerted case for effective governance. Currently, Democrats are caught in a spiral of silence. No one defends government and government looks increasingly indefensible. Public life and government are seen as hopelessly gridlocked and corrupt, so they become more hopelessly gridlocked and corrupt. Even politicians who know that government has a vital role to play in making our society stronger have little incentive to make what is now an unpopular and unfamiliar case. Consider the almost complete silence of Democrats about the Affordable Care Act—a law that despite its limitations has unquestionably delivered considerable benefits to the majority of Americans. A 2014 study found that spending on anti—Obamacare ads since 2010 outpaced money spent for ads defending the law 15 to 1.

Consider that ratio. Why the legislators still in office who shepherded the bill through Congress in 2009 aren’t shaming the Supremes every morning on television boggles my mind. Make podiums: “If the Supreme Court rules against the mandates, your uncle will die of diabetes.” Risk the ire of Chuck Todd and “Mika” Brzezinski. Woo outrage.