2020, PG, 106 min. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Roger Van Hool, Jackie Berroyer, Clémentine Grenier, Manon Clavel, Ludivine Sagnier.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 3, 2020
In Japanese director’s Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Parisian-set film The Truth, the great Catherine Deneuve plays the fictional role of Fabienne Dangeville, an aging doyenne of the French cinema screen. Over a long career, Fabienne has scaled the heights of her profession, a peak that has come at the expense of personal relationships and ever-more-entitled sense of self-absorption. She is not shy to admit that, despite being a bad mother and bad friend, she is a great actress.
Fabienne’s autobiography, which is on the verge of publication, polishes her character faults into more palatable verities for public consumption. Her daughter, Lumir (Binoche), a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, comes to visit her mother on the occasion of the book’s release, along with her husband Hank (Hawke), a second-rate TV actor finally achieving some recognition, and their young and delightful daughter Charlotte (Grenier). Interpersonal relationships roil and relax during the week or so that Lumir and her family spend with Fabienne at her pastoral estate outside Paris as well as on the set of the new movie Fabienne is shooting. It’s called Memories of My Mother, and it’s a science-fiction story in which she plays the daughter of a mother who never aged. Although the movie within the movie is a clear meta-commentary on the rift between Fabienne and Lumir, the parallels are not as clearly enunciated as one might expect. It’s a hoot, however, when a peak emotional scene between Fabienne and Lumir results in the actress’ realization that she needs to reshoot finished scenes in order to imbue them with the feelings she has just experienced in real life. Life is merely fodder for art.
While the set-up may remind us of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, and countless other film dramas about mother/daughter-dynamics, The Truth has no fireworks or Mommie Dearest-type horrors. Kore-eda (Shoplifters, Nobody Knows) has spent his career investigating family frissons in humanist dramas that often focus on the relationships between parents and children. His observations are usually subtle and implicit rather than volatile and disruptive. Lumir may mark up her mother’s book with angry Post-Its contradicting her mother’s “truths” and fabrications, yet the mother and daughter can also dissolve into shared giggles and camaraderie during other impromptu moments. Deneuve and Binoche, two of the best in their profession, are enthralling to watch as they perform this pas de deux, while the ever-intrepid Ethan Hawke humorously dips his toes into their brackish waters.
While the performances are total delights, there remains the nagging feeling that Kore-eda is not working at his peak. Storylines such as the implications of the film within the film and the ramifications of the death of another frequently mentioned actress of renown are barely explored. Somehow, more resonance is expected of these tantalizing bits but Kore-eda and his co-screenwriter Ken Liu leave them undeveloped. The film is lesser Kore-eda, to be sure, but the truth here is that sometimes less can be just enough.
The Truth is available on VOD now. Visit austinchronicle.com/screens for an interview with director Kore-eda.