Changing Times

Rated NR 2006

If the title, knee-jerk cast, pop song intro, and schmaltzy plot of his new film are any indication, once-cutting-edge director Andre Techine is now the French mainstream -- the premier pilot of conventional, high-toned soap opera. Still, he's a master at texture, and Changing Times is rich with thoughtful messiness, from the autumnal angst darkening the exhausted visage of Gerard Depardieu, to the stormy evocation of post-colonial life. Set in Tangier almost entirely among bourgeois French emigres, Techine's film obsessively detours toward the background of the still-oppressed Arab poor, day workers, refugees, rampant Euro-development (Depardieu plays a mega-site construction manager, barking at the locals), and pious Muslim women forced to work at a Moroccan McDonald's. These contemplations almost form a second movie, upstaged by the dramatics caused by Depardieu's unhappy suit, who is actually in country to woo Catherine Deneuve's radio host, for whom he's held a candle for 30 years. The screenplay never coalesces, the political subtext is impotent, and the romance climaxes with a deus ex machina that shoots the film's credibility out of the water.

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