In the harrowing, true-life story that spans nearly 30 years, In Her Name tells the story of Andre Bamberski (the great French king of angst, Daniel Auteuil), who finds out that his seemingly happy marriage to Dany (Marie-Josée Croze) is falling apart due to her affair with a German doctor, Dieter Krombach (Sebastian Koch, best known for roles in The Lives of Others and Black Book). Not long after the couple split up, Andre and Dany’s 14-year-old daughter Kalinka (Emma Besson) is found dead in her room in Dany’s new German home.
Although a hastily performed autopsy does not point to any wrong doing, the distraught Andre digs deeper and finds gross misconduct and a conspiracy of incompetence and lies that seem to indicate that Dr. Krombach has covered up the rape and death of Kalinka. In Her Name chronicles Andre’s descent down the rabbit hole of the European justice system, which is both painstakingly slow and prone to political meddling to stop any possibility of an unwanted international incident, despite the fact that the nations of the European Union are supposed to adhere to extradition laws.
Andre and his faithful, patient lawyers work every angle they can, both in Germany and France and a few other countries where the doctor attempts to hide, uncovering even further proof of his guilt that still seems to gain them no ground in having him returned to France to face murder charges. While the maze of legal challenges certainly makes for fascinating procedural, the film adds an additional tragedy to its roster as Andre loses himself so deeply in the case that he pushes aside relationships with his now-grown son and his new girlfriend that is supportive by every definition of the word. He also takes early retirement at his job so he can devote himself fulltime to getting justice for his daughter.
The story culminates when Andre takes the law into his hands to make sure Dr. Krombach answers for his crimes. If this were a fictional story starring Liam Neeson, he’s probably just blow the guy away, or give the good doctor an autopsy of his own…while he was still alive. But being rooted in the truth, In Her Name’s conclusion is a largely quiet, mostly satisfying series of events, packing a great deal of raw pain and emotion into its framework. Directed by Vincent Garenq (Guilty, Comme les autres), the film’s driving force is the broken heart of a lonely father, and for some, that may be more than they can handle, especially when Andre behaves irrationally, to the detriment of his own endgame. Auteuil and Koch are perfect rivals—the former, frazzled and obsessive; the other, collected, handsome and charming—and much of the film’s success is due to their anti-chemistry, even though they share very little screen time.
The worst I can say about In Her Name is that it suffers from tunnel vision and doesn’t allow us to dig a little deeper into the lives and minds of any of its characters. At the same time, I admired its focus and commitment as much as I did Andre’s. There are many gut-wrenching movies to check out this holiday season, but this one might be the one that has you running for the liquor cabinet.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.