Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Original Title: La vérité
France/Japan/Switzerland, 2019. 3B Productions, Bun-Buku, MI Movies, France 3 Cinema, Canal+, Ciné+, France Televisions, Garidi Films, Cofinova 15, Indéfilms 7, Cinécap 2, Cinémage 13, La Région Île-de-France, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee, Société des Producteurs de Cinéma et de Télévision, Le Pacte, Wild Bunch, GAGA., All Nippon Airways Co.. Screenplay by Hirokazu Koreeda, Ken Liu. Cinematography by Eric Gautier. Produced by Muriel Merlin. Music by Alexei Aigui. Production Design by Riton Dupire-Clément. Costume Design by Pascaline Chavanne. Film Editing by Hirokazu Koreeda.
The latest entry in the genre of eastern directors making western debuts is a fine, satisfying drama by Hirokazu Koreeda, who applies his usual poignant delicacy to a story of familial trouble while adding a clear and confident grasp of French cynical reserve into the mix. The film also provides an opportunity to watch two of the country’s cinematic heavyweights go at each other, their scenes together more than making up for a story that is told with a great deal of sensitivity if very little imagination. Catherine Deneuve offers no apologies as a veteran film star who has spent a great deal of her life being catered to by colleagues, her family and her longtime devoted assistant, the cigarette dangling from her mouth the only thing about her that has any filter. She is receiving a visit from her long estranged daughter (Juliette Binoche), who has come with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and small child just around the time that Deneuve is beginning to shoot a supporting role in a science-fiction film that she believes is beneath her usual standard. Before the bags are even unpacked the frustrations of the past are unleashed, and mention is made of a now departed but once vibrant fellow actress and friend of Deneuve’s who Binoche always saw as a surrogate mother. Her real mother has recently penned a memoir that she didn’t let her daughter read before publishing, and what she has written is, according to Binoche, entirely a fictitious account of devoted motherhood when, in reality, she always put her career first.
Shooting begins on the sci-fi film, a shamelessly on-the-nose intertext, in which Deneuve plays the daughter of a woman who chooses to live in outer space to extend her life and youth while on earth her daughter ages decades; Deneuve’s co-star is a new star coming up in the business who has been said to resemble her late friend, her absence now creating an even larger shadow that hangs above our protagonists. When Deneuve’s assistant quits in anger over having gone unmentioned in the memoir after forty years of service (a plot turn that doesn’t quite convince), Binoche is forced into the role of helper and, in the process of getting her mother through shooting days that amp up her insecurities, eventually reaches a point of grace in this seemingly unhealable relationship.
Koreeda isn’t interested in fireworks between these two, this isn’t a Bergman film that culminates in a night of emotional long knives, but rather it explores, perhaps a bit too subtly, the theme of truth as an ephemeral and impossible reality in human life, where memories are tied too much to emotion to ever achieve empirical fact, and where everyone remembers things in the way that suits them best or hurts them the least. The point at which these two characters experience a change that pushes them to stop being angry with each other is almost impossible to see and feels unrewarding, as though the earlier scenes of potential conflict are abandoned in favour of the examination of the science-fiction film’s effect on Deneuve’s personality, while a great deal of the circumstances of the plot feel a bit too contrived to achieve the kind of spontaneity that Koreeda is going for. Watching these two great performers underplay their interactions is more than enough reason to give this one a go, though, and Deneuve really relishes the opportunity to portray someone who so unabashedly risks keeping the audience from ever sympathizing with her, while also never letting her character’s flaws ever feel like selfish-actress stereotypes.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2019
Venice Film Festival: In Competition