To the surprise of no one, this year’s Venice Film Festival has opened with polite yet emotionally charged discussions of a lineup that, for many, reflects artistic director Alberto Barbera’s insensibility to a cluster of vital current issues. During the opening press conference for the jury, president Lucrecia Martel appeared to censure Roman Polanski, whose An Officer and a Spy will premiere in competition. Later, she released a statement clarifying that she has no “prejudice” toward the film and will be viewing it as she would any other competing film. But Martel also confronted Barbera on the issue of gender parity in the industry. All summer long, Barbera, whose term will end next year, has argued that, while there are only two films directed by women in a competition lineup of twenty-one titles, overall, the selections “reveal a new sensibility geared towards the feminine universe.” We can probably safely assume that Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, is one of the films he’s had in mind.
Opening Venice’s seventy-sixth edition and its competition, The Truth is Kore-eda’s first film shot outside of Japan and his first in any language—in this case, a mix of French and English—other than Japanese. As Elsa Keslassy reports for Variety, he approached Deneuve and Binoche fourteen years ago when he first began developing the project and chose these two actresses specifically because they “represent the history of French cinema.” As for Binoche, she’s “always dreamed of playing alongside Catherine Deneuve.” She says that Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin (1970), starring Deneuve, “is a movie that’s very dear to me, and sharing so much intimacy with her through this film and our work together was a vivid and precious consecration.”
Deneuve plays Fabienne, an icon of the silver screen now in her early seventies who’s just completed a memoir. To celebrate the publication, her daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche), arrives in France from New York with her American husband, Hank (Ethan Hawke), a television actor and recovering alcoholic, and her daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier). Jessica Kiang pretty well sums up the first round of critical response to The Truth when, writing for the Playlist, she calls the film “a witty, meta dramedy about fiction and fact and self-mythologizing; a portrait of a wonderfully impossible woman; an admiring tribute to the craft of acting; a vehicle for a stellar late-career performance to cap one of France’s all-time great careers; and almost exactly the very last film you would have expected the beloved Japanese director to make, especially after his Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters.”
At the same time, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich finds that “this wise and diaphanous little drama finds Kore-eda once again exploring his usual obsessions, as the man behind the likes of Still Walking and After the Storm offers yet another insightful look at the underlying fabric of a modern family.” For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, The Truth is “very much, in the end, a Kore-eda film. Which is to say, it works by throwing the audience a series of highly refined dramatic curveballs that don’t necessarily add up to the movie you thought you were watching.” While Deneuve has claimed that Fabienne is “very far” from her own personality, she’s made the character “a proudly narcissistic and theatrical glamour puss who has no patience for the idea that she should pretend to be anything other than the devious, self-adoring prima donna she is.”
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin notes that Fabienne’s book “is awash with self-serving confections and omissions, from made-up mother-daughter bonding to killing off her ex-husband and Lumir’s father, Pierre.” And yet, for all that inherent drama, “the film defaults to gentle comedy too often, and feels afraid to dig deep enough into its underlying themes to draw blood. Fabienne wisecracks about old colleagues and reflects on past mistakes, but there’s little sense she is reckoning with a legacy in the way Binoche did in [Olivier Assayas’s] Clouds of Sils Maria .”
For more immediate takes on The Truth, see Kaleem Aftab (Time Out), Marta Bałaga (Cineuropa), Xan Brooks (Guardian), Alonso Duralde (TheWrap), Leonardo Goi (Notebook), Lee Marshall (Screen), and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter). And for more on what we can expect from Venice this year, listen to Film Comment’s editor Nicolas Rapold and assistant editor Devika Girish discuss the films they’re looking forward to.
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