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Truth, The (2019)
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by Jay Seaver

"Taking family friction to a new continent."
4 stars

I don't really think that Hirokazu Kore-eda has made a French-language movie because his particular arthouse niche was getting kind of tight, but it's darkly amusing to imagine international film financiers imagining that the combination of his understated Japanese family dramas and French films where Catherine Deneuve makes a movie about being Catherine Deneuve might get screens and audiences that neither alone might find. Heck, there's a third element in play that might draw a different audience! Fortunately, even when the film feels like it is assembled out of different pieces, the craftsmanship that puts them together is as fine as one might hope, creating a work that should satisfy audiences no matter what drew them to it.

It revolves around Fabienne Dangeville (Deneuve) and her family; the famous actress has just published her memoirs in advance of starting work on a new movie where she plays the 73-year-old daughter of a twentysomething woman whose job in outer space keeps her unaging. The actress playing the role (Manon Clavel), naturally, is the daughter of an old friend and rival who was sometimes more of a mother to Fabienne's daughter than she was. Lumir (Juliette Binoche), now a screenwriter in America, has arrived with husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to be part of the book launch, noting many inaccuracies while Luc (Alain Libolt), the assistant who has been by her side for decades, quits upon noting that he is not mentioned at all, putting Lumir in charge of wrangling her mother.

Films like this, set within the world of cinema, art, and fame, can often be insular, built on experiences and metaphors that are meaningful for the closest and most dedicated audience but which often have others trying to figure out some sort of meta-narrative or left behind by not recognizing a meaningful reference. The Truth it does kind of feel hollow for a while, with every bit of Fabienne being insufferable coming across as an anecdote that those in the know will recognize rather than something that actually adds up to a person, although that is in a way her character: Fabienne is a performer before all else, and while many things can give a person tunnel-vision, dedication to this particular art can erase the self, leaving Deneuve playing an often amusing, though nearly as often horrible, woman with limited conception of how she affects others.

The rest of the cast has less obvious hooks to hang their characterization on, but they mesh together extremely well. Juliette Binoche is charged with being the spine of the film as Lumir and she does an impressive job of being a sort of everywoman in spite of her environment, smoothly moving between frustrated acceptance and genuine frustration, depending on the moment, and affection that never seems phony or at odds when it comes out. She plays off Ethan Hawke, whose Hank is the sort of laid-back you like but sort of worry about, and Clémentine Grenier's Charlotte, who can be clever and self-aware without seeming like a little adult. Manon Clavel is in a tricky spot, because the audience mostly sees her eponymous character playing someone else, and when she's not, she's shading her performance to be the sort of rising star who seems to threaten Fabienne with her youth and beauty, while everyone else is showing how much she reminds them of the late Sarah without necessarily bringing it up until after the audience has figured that out.

And yet, Kore-eda is able to sneak up on the audience; without a lot of histrionics or necessarily having the characters grapple with their relationships directly or admit fault, he's able to build up a lot of history and feelings of emptiness these characters have for not being a bigger part of each other's lives. He contrasts that with the (mostly) innocent and unspoiled granddaughter, whose digressions and curiosity are great ways to draw the adults out and give the audience a momentary respite from their self-absorption. It's a thing he seems to do a lot, using a kid to poke at the odd corners of a family without having to explain it in a way that depends too much on a character's specific point of view, but it's one that works here.

I joke about this being an attempt to appeal to a wider section of the art-house demographic but not by much - Kore-eda has long been a guy whose success in part comes from making boutique films that feel like boutique films, giving the audience that wants something quiet and contemplative at least the feeling of what they want, and this one does too, if in a different mode but still recognizably his own.

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originally posted: 11/09/19 16:06:24
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  03-Jul-2020 (PG)

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