A successful construction engineer who has continued pining for his first love for more than 30 years tracks her down in "Changing Times." A Cathererine Deneuve-Gerard Depardieu vehicle that leaves ample room for interesting supporting characters, this moody, more-bitter-than-sweet ode to anxiety is intense adult fare reinforced by effective no frills lensing. Andre Techine's latest spin on familiar themes -- including sex vs. love, cross-generational relations, homosexuality and the gap between well-to-do Europe and developing nations -- deserves to travel.

A successful construction engineer who has continued pining for his first love for more than 30 years tracks her down in “Changing Times.” A Cathererine Deneuve-Gerard Depardieu vehicle that leaves ample room for interesting supporting characters, this moody, more-bitter-than-sweet ode to anxiety is intense adult fare reinforced by effective no frills lensing. Andre Techine’s latest spin on familiar themes — including sex vs. love, cross-generational relations, homosexuality and the gap between well-to-do Europe and developing nations — deserves to travel.

Antoine Lavau (Depardieu), a hulk of a man with the permanently hurt expression of a bewildered little boy, arrives in Tangiers to oversee the building of a media communications center. Paralleling his professional mission is a crucial personal one: He has never married because for 31 years and 8 months he’s never stopped thinking about Cecile (Deneuve) with whom he shared a symbiosis of love and desire that’s eluded him since, and he plans to track her down in Tangiers where she now lives.

Cecile, who hosts the French portion of a nightly French-Arabic radio show, is married to Natan (Gilbert Melki), a Moroccan doctor at least a decade her junior. Their son Sami (Malik Zidi) has just arrived from Paris with Nadia (Lubna Azabal) and her 9-year-old son. Back in France, Sami lives with Nadia and her boy, but he is more attracted to men than to women. He’s come to Tangiers to see an old boyfriend.

When Antoine meets Natan under tragicomic circumstances, Cecile is abruptly confronted with this lovesick puppy from her past. This puppy, however, is far better off than she is and wants only to live out the rest of his life by her side. As Cecile’s radio partner Rachel (Tanya Lopert) puts it: “It’s usually women who get worked up and carry a torch like that.”

Meanwhile, Nadia’s observant Muslim twin sister Aicha (also Azabal) hasn’t seen her for six years and refuses to see her now.

From this bundle of crossed wires, Techine captures just enough sparks. Deft thesping abetted by a probing camera style prevents meller elements from devolving into mere soap opera. Scene in which Antoine and Natan frankly discuss Antoine’s designs on Natan’s wife is a high point in a screenplay that manages to incorporate gay sex, drug addiction, sorcery, exorcism and even killer dogs without seeming overly contrived.

Deneuve and Depardieu — instantly credible as a couple with a passionate past — remain pic’s chief pleasure.

Changing Times

France

Production

A Gemini Films release of a Paulo Branco presentation of a Gemini Films, France 2 Cinema production with participation of CNC, Canal Plus, TPS Star. (International sales: Gemini Films, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed by Andre Techine. Screenplay, Techine, Laurent Guyot, Pascal Bonnitzer.

Crew

Camera (color), Julien Hirsch; editor, Martine Giordano; music, Juliette Garrigues; art director, Ze Branco; costume designers, Christian Gasc, Catherine Leterrier; sound (Dolby), Thierry Delo; assistant director, Michel Nasri. Reviewed at MK2 Odeon, Paris, Dec. 16, 2004. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Gilbert Melki, Malik Zidi, Lubna Azabal, Tanya Lopert, Nabila Baraka, Jabir Elomri, Nadem Rachati.
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