Friday, July 03, 2020

Kore-eda’s The Truth

Fabienne Dangeville was no Joan Crawford, but she wasn’t the paragon of maternal virtue her new memoir makes her out to be. Instead, she has always been more interested in career than anything else. That is how her daughter Lumir remembers their family history, but her memory is also subjective. No matter whose recollections are more accurate, family is still family in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, the first French-language production from the Japanese auteur, which opens today in very select cities and also releases on VOD.

Lumir has returned to Paris with her TV actor husband Hank and their daughter Charlotte, to celebrate the publication of her mother’s book, but Dangeville’s reluctance to send her an advance copy has aroused her suspicions. Meanwhile, the great actress struggles to relate to her latest film role, playing the aged daughter of a terminally-ill woman, who has used the relativity of interstellar space travel to stretch her time, but as a result, she has been almost entirely from her husband and daughter’s lives. Frankly, she only accepted the part to work with Manon Lenoir, the daughter of a former friend and colleague, whom she may have done wrong, at least according to Lumir.

If that premise sounds familiar, it is because associate producer Ken Liu’s story “Memories of My Mother” was previously adapted as the short film Beautiful Dreamer before becoming the source of Kore-eda’s film-within-the-film. It is quite a unique distinction for Liu among his fellow sf writers, but it is easy to see how the themes of his story overlap with those of Kore-eda’s family drama (and his entire oeuvre).

Of course, patrons of French cinema will be much more interested in the first-time pairing of Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as the mother-daughter tandem. They will not be disappointed. Admittedly, Deneuve is playing with her own image to some extent, but her grand diva act is certainly entertaining to behold. She also has some terrific scenes with young Clementine Grenier, as her granddaughter. However, Binoche is totally believable as the down-to-earth Lumir, who nurtures her resentments without wallowing in them. She plays Lumir as a functional adult rather than an over-the-top cliché. (Thank heavens, Meryl Streep is not in this film.)

Ethan Hawke brings some grungy charm as Hank, but more importantly he and Binoche develop believable chemistry and tension as a married couple (from Hollywood, no less). Roger Van Hool also makes the most of his brief scenes as Lumir’s father, who “magically” reappears. Yet, the surprise standout Manon Clavel, who shows the same promising talent of her character, playing Lenoir.

The Truth is an unusually graceful and wonderfully forgiving film. In terms of tone, it often feels like a sequel to Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours (also starring Binoche), which is a considerable compliment, but it is still a Kore-eda film, through and through. This is his first non-Japanese film, but it continues his remarkable string of twenty-teen films, starting with I Wish and including the unlikely breakout hit, Shoplifters. There is no question he has been one of the best and most consistent filmmakers working over the last decade. Highly recommended for viewers that appreciate smart, sophisticated family dramas, The Truth opens today (7/3) for real in a few brick-and-mortar movie houses, like the Flicks Theatre in Boise, and releases simultaneously on VOD platforms.