Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Major filmmakers continue to see new films released during this pandemic improvisation; here’s another. The new film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is available to watch online, but don’t let that stop you from raiding the shelves of Scarecrow for other films by this gifted director.
His 2018 film Shoplifters won the top prize at Cannes, an Oscar nomination, and was widely beloved. At least as fine, though, is the 2015 Our Little Sister, a real beauty about a newly-blended family. (To read more from me on that, please investigate the recently published book from the National Society of Film Critics, For Kids of All Ages, where I write about it.) Meantime, something on La Vérité, the filmmaker’s latest.
Just in the opening scene alone—sitting for an interview with a nervous film journalist—Catherine Deneuve manages to unload at least a half-dozen withering sallies from her grande-dame perch. She plays Fabienne, an icon of French cinema whose status is not unlike Deneuve’s own, and she’s submitting to the interview because she has a new memoir coming out. The session is interrupted by the arrival of her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), son-in-law Hank (Ethan Hawke), and granddaughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier). Lumir is a screenwriter in Hollywood, and Hank is an actor, although when you see Fabienne raise her eyebrow as she ponders the use of the word “actor” (“a big word,” she shrugs, with regard to him), you’ll know he is not exactly top-rank.
This is how the principals get on stage in The Truth, the first European film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, and their awkward pirouetting around each other for a few days in Paris will constitute the film’s main course. Fabienne is shooting a sci-fi picture while prepping for her book-launch party, Lumir is furious about the book’s lack of truth-telling (she carefully sticks Post-It notes on pages with errors), and various current and ex-lovers circle around Fabienne’s world. Among its other pleasures, the way Kore-eda keeps the film seamlessly moving between family drama and on-set revelations is so easy and fluid you won’t have a chance to consider how complicated all the pieces are.
The Truth combines cringes and droll wit while sticking to a pleasant minor key. There are moments when we’re nudged toward sentimentality (and the music is drippy, a problem in some of Kore-eda’s other films), but then something astringent happens, and we’re back on track. The central subject is how much Fabienne sacrificed to become a great actress, and the possibility for teary confessions and sticky reconciliations is always there. Two terrific scenes, back-to-back near the movie’s end, set us up for corn, only to splendidly pull back, with an acknowledgement that make-believe exists at every level—and maybe that’s not a bad thing.
The movie is a star vehicle for Deneuve, to be sure, but Kore-eda pays attention to other people in quiet and generous ways. Both Binoche and Hawke contribute pro turns that never need to take the spotlight from Deneuve; we see very well why Lumir is content with having picked a mediocre actor who makes a warm-hearted husband and father. Fabienne’s longtime assistant (Alain Libolt) is allowed a few lingering close-ups that gracefully remind us of his loyal place in her life (he’s offended at having been left out of the memoir), and her ex-husband (Roger Van Hool) wanders amusingly in and out of the proceedings. Manon Clavel and Ludivine Sagnier play actresses in the sci-fi picture, to excellent effect in different ways. And we’re reminded of one of Kore-eda’s strengths: paying attention to children who are buffeted about by grown-up scenarios. He takes time to follow Charlotte as she explores her grandmother’s house, and has encounters of her own—evidence of a curious and observant mind, both hers and Kore-eda’s.
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.