The film, directed by Vincent Garenq, is based on a true story involving Kalinka Bamberski, a French teenager who died in 1982 in her mother and stepfather’s house. The stepfather, a German doctor, may have been involved in the girl’s death, which resulted in a near 30-year pursuit on the biological father’s part to have the doctor stand trial.
This within itself would be enough plot for a feature-length movie, however, it is not the whole story. Andre Bamberski (Daniel Auteuil) was a married man with two children, Kalinka (Lila-Rose Gilberti, as a child and Emma Besson as a teenager) and Pierre (Timeo Bolland as a child, Antoine Milhaud as a teenager and Tom Hudson as an adult). Andre discovered his wife, Dany (Marie-Josee Croze) was having an affair with a German doctor, Dieter (Sebastian Koch), whose daughter was a friend of Kalinka’s. Initially, Andre and Dany tried to give their marriage a second chance but the love between Dany and Dieter was too strong to overcome.
“In Her Name” appeals to our basic instincts by placing us in the shoes of the parents, the father in particular, who believes justice has not been served. A child has died, possibly injected with drugs and raped, as her assailant may go free due to cracks in the legal system and political connections. How are the parents supposed to get closure? How would you react?
The movie, at times, attempts to question Andre’s motivations. Does Andre truly believe Dieter drugged and raped his daughter or does Andre want revenge on Dieter for breaking up his marriage?
Revenge, whether it is that of a jealous husband, or in the noble pursuit of justice, becomes one of the movie’s themes as Andre begins a descent into obsession. It all starts off innocent enough. At first Andre wants to see a copy of the autopsy report. When he receives it, it is in German. Having the report translated he learns of an injection Dieter gave his daughter. He also learns of a futile attempt Dieter made to resuscitate Kalinka and possible signs of sexual activity. None of which was disclosed to Andre by either Dieter or Dany. Dieter was even present during the autopsy.
With this, the seeds of doubt are firmly planted in Andre’s mind. Was Dieter responsible for the death of Kalinka? What should Andre do about it? How can he prove it? Andre dedicates the next 30 years of his life to seeing Dieter stand trial, even while Dany fully believes Dieter had nothing to do with Kalinka’s death.
Those familiar with French cinema will recognize Daniel Auteuil, who is arguably one of the greatest actors of his generation, since he gained international fame for his roles in Claude Berri’s epic masterpiece series, “Jean de Florette” (1987) and its sequel “Manon of the Spring” (1987). How you respond to Auteuil’s performance will ultimately decide your opinion of the movie. Auteuil dominates on-screen, giving a nuance performance which borders on sympathetic and obsessive. In Auteuil’s hands, the character is played as an intelligent gentleman focused on a single issue, who may or may not realize the world around him is slipping away.
In what may have been a missed opportunity, the movie neglects involving more scenes with Pierre. How does the son fit into his father’s life and his pursuit for justice? It would have been interesting as well if Dany had an internal conflict. Why does she so willingly and blindly believe Dieter?
But this is what happens when filming a movie with so much story. What do you leave in and what do you take out? There are times viewers may feel too much has been edited as the movie spans a 27 year period.
One of the best decisions by director Garenq is he never sentimentalizes the material, turning it into overblown melodrama. It primarily functions as a mystery, often building suspense while still allowing for dramatic moments. It is not difficult to imagine how this material could have been turned into a sappy tear-jerker.
Much of “In Her Name” will seem familiar to audiences, we have seen variations of this story before, parent / spouse, looking for justice after a loved one has died and dealing with a flawed legal system. There was another French drama, “In the Name of My Daughter” (2014) starring Catherine Deneuve and directed by Andre Techine with a similar story about a mother’s hunt for justice when her daughter disappears and is never found. But “In Her Name” has a lot of heart and a compelling performance by Daniel Auteuil. It isn’t quite the stuff of great drama but it comes awfully close.