Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth

Catherine Deneuve in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (2019)

Last August, when Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth opened the Venice Film Festival, seems so very, very long ago. With a cast headlined by Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and Ethan Hawke, Kore-eda’s first feature shot outside of Japan was warmly received but quickly forgotten as debates flared up over the two eventual winners of Venice’s top awards, Todd Phillips’s Joker and Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy. The Truth went home empty-handed—quite a contrast to the reception of Kore-eda’s Shoplifters (2018), the story of an ad hoc family teetering on the edge of abject poverty and the winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes. Now that The Truth has reemerged for a virtual release in the U.S., Lidija Haas, writing for the New Republic, finds that it is “as if Kore-eda set himself the challenge of Shoplifters in reverse: Instead of drawing audiences closer to lives usually hidden, he shows them people they expect to know inside out.”

Deneuve plays Fabienne, a self-absorbed grande dame of French cinema, and in Filmmaker, Kore-eda tells Daniel Eagan that Deneuve kept insisting on set that she was nothing at all like her. “Right before each take,” says the director, “she would say, ‘If I say this, everybody will hate me,’ and then go ahead and do it.” The imminent publication of Fabienne’s memoir occasions a visit from her daughter, Lumir (Binoche), a screenwriter living in New York who has brought along her husband Hank (Hawke), an actor struggling with alcoholism, and their young daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier). Lumir is infuriated to discover that her childhood is depicted in Fabienne’s book as idyllic when she herself remembers it as anything but.

To Mike D’Angelo at the A.V. Club, The Truth “feels politely generic—too assured to be the work of a novice, but not detailed enough to make a strong impression.” Part of the problem in his view is that “the central relationship here feels atypically simplistic, aligning the viewer’s sympathy almost exclusively with Lumir.” But for Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times, The Truth is “light, loose, and funny, a generational dance performed by pros—Binoche sweating out steps around Deneuve’s just-so movements.” At RogerEbert.com, Odie Henderson agrees that while “Binoche is very good here,” this is “definitely Deneuve’s show.”

These two major French stars of international cinema have never before appeared on-screen together, and the New Yorker’s Richard Brody sees in their pairing an instructive juxtaposition. As Fabienne, Deneuve “both embodies the absolute discipline of a full-time diva and the ambient harshness of pre-1968 France. Born in 1943, schooled in the era depicted by François Truffaut in The 400 Blows, Deneuve here represents an age of collective rigid order and casual aggression, a time of frankness that inflicts emotional punishment along with stern discipline. By contrast, Binoche—a child of the ’60s and ’70s, like Lumir—embodies, in her looser gestures and freer manner, the post-’68 generation of liberalized mores and humanistic values . . . It’s this extraordinary dramatization of France’s crucial generational divide, and its cinematic implications, that gives The Truth its resonance beyond the emotional specifics of the drama, potent though they often are.”

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