Few directors use handheld cameras as well as André Téchiné, who in the course of a single shot can shift from neutrally capturing actors' subtle facial expressions to actively sharing their perspectives. In Changing Times, Téchiné lets his camera rise and fall with the faces of Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, playing two old flames unexpectedly reunited in Tangier, Morocco, where Deneuve lives with her doctor husband Gilbert Melki, and Depardieu is supervising the construction of a high-tech broadcast studio. Meanwhile, Deneuve's grown son Malik Zidi is town for a tryst with his gay lover, while his tranquilizer-addicted girlfriend Lubna Azabal waits back at the villa. Téchiné holds them all within a frame that stays steady, then goes suddenly, purposefully shaky.
There's something uniquely pleasurable about watching a director in total command of his craft, even when that craft is in service of a scattershot melodrama with pale intimations of social relevance. Throughout Changing Times, news reports from Iraq pop up on nearby radios, and when Deneuve and Depardieu have their getting-reacquainted walk, they stumble past a camp of squatting refugees, whose eyes they try hard not to meet. The political material—which also includes Azabal's estrangement from her devout Muslim twin sister, who works at a local McDonald's—seems to be mere contemporary window dressing, though it must mean something that Deneuve constantly frets about her family's financial situation, even as they live like princes among paupers.
Anyway, none of the social comment affects the fractious Deneuve-Depardieu relationship that anchors the film, and the vagueness of their non-romance keeps Changing Times from being much more than a well-shot, well-acted mood piece. Depardieu wants to play white knight, riding in to save a lost love from dreary domesticity, but she doesn't want to go, and Téchiné doesn't offer much reason why she should. Instead, he focuses on the light that spills across their faces while they talk about a fling they've both largely forgotten, and he examines how Depardieu's profile in silhouette makes him look like a granite monument. Then Téchiné covers that monument in dirt, in a startling mudslide sequence during which—if only for a moment—the camera takes on the perspective of the mud.