The Truth (La vérité, France-Japan, 2019)

Returning with trepidation

I pretty much avoid reading anything about films I want to see but still felt the a sightly negative vibe about Kore-eda Hirokazu’s first non-Japanese film. Having read some reviews now they’re certainly not negative but they are also not ecstatic, which they should have been. Kore-eda is a master at portraying family dynamics and transplanting his aesthetic to Paris has not mattered at all. Indeed, the casting of Catherine Deneuve allows for a reflection on acting and stardom that is likely to have been more appreciated in the west than if he’d used a legendary Japanese actor. I’m sure the film isn’t about Deneuve herself, though there is a poster for a fictional film Belle de Paris that obviously references Belle de Jour (France-Italy, 1967), but the driven egotism, and its costs, that is (or may be?) required to be at the absolute pinnacle of any field is the central theme of the film. In recent films I’ve felt Deneuve relies too much on her charisma for the performance, she’s not exactly ‘dialling it in’ though maybe the roles weren’t challenging enough – for example, Potiche (France, 2010). She’s certainly prolific, making an average of two films a year in the last decade, but in The Truth she is sensational; maybe being cast with the great Juliette Binoche led her to raise her game?

Binoche plays Lumir, the slightly-estranged daughter of Deneuve’s Fabienne whose just-published autobiography appears to be anything but its title: The Truth. The long-running tensions that, to an extent, bind families together are brilliantly shown, usually through facial expression. Ethan Hawke, slightly underused but that’s the role, is also excellent as the ‘second-rate’ actor husband of Lumir who remains affable despite Fabienne’s occasional jibes.

Fabienne is making an SF film where she plays the daughter of a terminally ill woman who remains ‘forever young’ by travelling into space and returning every two years for a short while. It’s a brilliant concept (apparently based on something by Ken Liu) that facilitates a meditation on age and a child’s relationship with their parents. The film is investigating, though not to any great philosophical depth, the nature of truth and if that sounds heavy the film is also very funny in an off-beat way.

As always in Kore-eda, the direction of children is magnificent. Lumir and Hank’s daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier), serves as an intermediary between the not-quite warring adults without pretension. Lumir is a scriptwriter and gives her daughter some great lines to flatter Fabienne who earlier asked for lines to smooth over conflict with a miffed personal assistant. How often in life do we think of lines to say before an encounter?

Kore-eda’s ‘dislocation’ from Japan has been seamless and he even manages to include trees, though not in blossom as in his Japanese films, as emblems of a time of life.

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