Imagine the torment of a man who has spent the last 30 years lamenting the loss of his first love. Having never married, he has spent many lonely nights replaying the tapes in his mind of what might have been. His is a life of regret over the past and an inability to be in the present moment.
Yearning is a powerful spiritual emotion and its shadow side can yield many dark and gloomy days. French filmmaker Andre Techine has made a bittersweet film about a man who decides to make one more try at convincing the woman he loved and lost so many years ago to start all over with him again. There is something strange and valiant in his quest, and this what makes this romantic tale worth watching.
Antoine (Gerard Depardieu), a French engineer, arrives in Tangiers to oversee the construction of a major media center. He is a wealthy and powerful man but the real reason he has come to this faraway place is to reconnect with Cecile (Catherine Deneuve), his first love. He wants to convince her to spend the rest of her life with him. She hosts an evening radio show, introducing love songs and reading dedications sent in by listeners.
Despite the romantic setting of her program, Cecile is a chilly woman whose husband Nathan (Gilbert Melki), a Moroccan doctor several years younger, has grown restless in their marriage due to her critical and aloof nature. Their son Sami (Malik Zidi) has arrived from Paris with his partner Nadi (Lubna Azabal) and her nine-year old son Said. Sami doesn't particularly like his mother and evades all her questions about his life, which is quite a mess. He is spending most of his time with a male lover. Cecile has no luck connecting with Nadi either, who is taking tranquilizers to make it through a very uncomfortable period of her life. Her twin sister Aicha, a strict Muslim, refuses to see her.
One day by chance, Antoine spots Cecile in a store and secretly watches her from a distance. Frightened of being seen, he rushes to escape and smashes into a glass window. Nathan comes to his assistance as he lies sprawled on the floor with a bruised nose and Cecile staring at him. At the hospital, they struggle with small talk, and she promises to be in touch. When she doesn't call, Antoine drops in unexpectedly at their home, embarrassing her. She introduces him as an old friend to Rachel (Tanya Lopert), her partner at the radio station.
Antoine's mission at her home is to put a black-and-white photograph of them taken 30 years ago under her bed, part of his plan to cast a spell on her so that she will love him once again. Later, when Rachel learns of Antoine's persistence in pursuing Cecile, she tells her friend: "It's usually women who get worked up and carry the torch like that."
Director Andre Techine is a master at orchestrating the complex emotional dynamics of not only Antoine and Cecile but also of four subsidiary characters. Although Antoine believes he truly loves Cecile, he doesn't have a clue as to the muddle of her life and the many things that are stressing her out. It is a pleasure to watch the great French actor Gerard Depardieu as a man who is determined to stop time and return again to the only time when he was happy and truly alive. Catherine Deneuve is convincing as the brittle Cecile, a woman at the end of her rope and wondering what to do next.
Changing Times spins its wheels a few times trying to resolve too many sidebar plots but in the end, this turns out to be a commendable study of middle-age, a time of life when people take stock, look around for new options, and consider afresh the meaning of love and desire.
Special DVD features include an interview with actor Interview with Gilbert Melki.