(Les Temps Qui Changent)

Directed by André Techine. 2005.

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Nominated for the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, André Techine's Changing Times reunites French superstars Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu for the seventh time. Set in Tangiers, Morocco in the fifties, the film tackles large topics: temporary pleasure versus enduring commitment, the status of women in Morocco, bisexuality, and the economic gap between wealthy European nations and the third world, but none are fully developed. Along the way, we see refugees waiting by the sea hoping for voyage to Europe, Arabs slaughtering sheep in the desert, and women afraid to be seen in public with men. The film has a fragmentary quality and, in spite of some lyrical moments, is mainly a star vehicle that cannot decide whether it wants to be a comedy, a tragedy, or political commentary. 

The film begins as a landslide buries Antoine Lavau (Gerard Depardieu), a supervisor inspecting a construction site, and the film proceeds with flashbacks to Antoine's arrival in Tangiers and his subsequent life in Morocco. Lavau has come to Tangiers to expedite the building of an audiovisual center in the Tax Free Zone of Tangiers. Perhaps sexpedite might be more to the point as he has basically come to rekindle a romance with Cecile (Deneueve), his first love with whom he is still obsessed, even though he has not tried to contact her during the last thirty years out of fear of rejection. Cecile is a radio announcer on a late night music and talk show. Antoine sends her flowers anonymously and spends his nights listening to her voice on the radio. In a scene played for laughs, he even watches a video about voodoo so he can render her powerless to resist his advances. When the two finally meet, it is only after Antoine runs into a glass wall breaking his nose.

Cecile has changed greatly since coming to North Africa and has neither fond memories of Antoine nor any wish to rekindle their romance. She is remarried to Natan (Gilbert Melki), a Jewish doctor and they have one son, Sami (Malik Zidi), a bisexual, who has been living in Paris with his Moroccan girl friend Nadia (Lubna Azubal) and her son Said (Idir Elomri). He is in Tangier visiting his family for the holidays and renewing acquaintances with his Moroccan lover Bilal (Idir Rachati) who lives in a country estate well protected by a pack of none too friendly dogs. Nadia, who suffers from emotional problems and takes tranquilizers, wants to visit her twin sister Aicha while in Tangiers whom she hasn't seen in six years but Aicha refuses to see her, telling Nadia that it would complicate her life. These episodes have some tender moments but we do not learn enough about either sister or for that matter Sami or Bilal to have any emotional investment in their lives.
As Cecile's relationship with Natan becomes more and more strained, she begins to open up a little bit to Antoine and starts to show some affection, but this is interrupted by Antoine's accident at the site, leading to a contrived and predictable resolution of the plot. Although Changing Times contains some fine performances by two outstanding professionals, little emotion is conveyed and I did not find the relationship to be truly convincing. The times they are-a changin' and if this film is any indication of the direction of André Techine's work, it is not for the better. Perhaps someone should have considered putting a voodoo spell on the scriptwriter. As it is, there is much good intention but little magic.


Howard Schumann
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