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.”