“You can’t possess someone without hurting him or her.”
Thirty-one years ago, Cecile (Catherine Deneuve) and Antoine (Gerard Depardieu) were madly in love and swore that they would spend the rest of their lives together. But things didn’t work out, and Cecile and Antoine went their separate ways. Now, they are both in their 50s, and Antoine is ready to claim Cecile back.
Antoine is an extremely successful, wealthy man, and he’s arranged a job near Cecile supervising the construction of a broadcasting station in Tangiers. Meanwhile Cecile, a radio announcer, is unaware that she’s the object of Antoine’s schemes. While Antoine has remained a bachelor, Cecile’s life is messy, and she’s on her second, troubled marriage. Her younger unfaithful husband, physician Natan (Gilbert Melki) drinks too much and resents the fact that Cecile refuses to move to his home country, Morocco, where a much better paying job awaits him. To complicate matters, Cecile’s son, Sami (Malik Zedi) and his drug-addicted Moroccan girlfriend, Nadia (Lubna Azabal) have just arrived from Paris.
Director Andre Techine explores the bittersweet fallout of the big reunion between Antoine and Cecile. For the first few moments of Changing Times, the plot seems to be gearing up for an epic romance (Indochine), but the film veers away from that towards a soapy drama, and then settles in reality. Antoine’s been planning his big moment–the first time Cecile sets eyes on him again–with great care–even taping fancy speeches into a cassette player in his efforts to make that moment perfect. The reality of their first moments together are humiliating and embarrassing for Antoine, and it’s soon clear that while he’s harboured and fueled this passion, Cecile can barely remember him. Meanwhile Antoine seems oblivious of the fact that Cecile is a person in her own right–a person with problems and objectives, and not just some fantasy figure he’s stored in his head.
Techine’s film is more concerned with the sort of realities that life is constructed of–disappointments, and the day-to-day struggles within a marriage vs. the imagined thrill of an unrequited romance. As Cecile frankly tells Antoine, it’s easier to carry an image around of someone in your head for thirty years than it is to actually live with that person day in and day out. Reality batters romance, and it always will.
One of the film’s sub-plots involves Sami’s relationship with another man, Bilal (Nadem Rachati). And there’s another sub-plot with Nadia’s twin sister that proved to be distracting. As with most of Techine’s films, the plot is interesting, but the characters remain bloodless and unsympathetic. Obviously the audience is supposed to be impressed with this on-screen coupling of two of the biggest names in French cinema, and while this is a decent role for Deneuve, Depardieu’s role is less-than-centered. For animal lovers, there are two scenes that may prove offensive to some viewers–the slaughter of a sheep and also the decapitation of a chicken. In French with English subtitles.