Review: The Truth

Year: 2020
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writers: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Ken Liu (based on short story by)
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke

By Michael Frank

After Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” won the Palme d’Or in 2018, it would be difficult for him to top the acclaim received and the impact made by this intimate family drama. Kore-eda followed this effort with an even more intimate, smaller French-English film called “The Truth”.

Premiering at Venice in 2019, “The Truth” was slated for a March release with IFC Films, only to be pushed back due to COVID-19. The film centers on a famous French actress in Fabienne Dangeville, played by a superb Catherine Deneuve depicting a version of herself. Fabienne’s daughter (Juliette Binoche), son-in-law (Ethan Hawke), and granddaughter (Clémentine Grenier) visit the older actor in her home, in order to celebrate the release of her new memoir. Though it’s Kore-eda’s first non-Japanese film, it doesn’t depart too far from the storytelling and the intimacy he found through “Shoplifters”. 

Copyright: IFC Films

“It’s a film about the memories we have, the ones we hold onto, the ones we forget, and the way these memories shape our relationships.”

Though the truth in its title refers to Fabienne’s memoir, as with many of Kore-eda’s films, his newest explores a deeper meaning for this aging artist and her daughter. “The Truth” looks at this relationship through a messy lens, one that is hampered by decades of lost memories, childhood frustrations, and deaths brought on by Fabienne’s drive to be the best. Everyone in the film is lying to one another. The truth rarely sits at the table, complete with bottles of wine, fancy desserts, and conversations unfit for granddaughter Charlotte. It’s a group of people that are imperfect, yet successful, fraught with pent-up emotions, problems, or prolonged attempts to delay the inevitability of growing older. 

Fabienne especially lives a life of falsities, from the roles she plays to the way she interacts with each person that surrounds her, always acting slightly above them. Deneuve is magnificent in this specific regard, giving us a reason to dislike her just enough for her character’s emotional half-turn in the film’s second half to feel rewarding. She won’t change, but she’ll budge slightly, and Deneuve’s performance has a sense of personalness, a connection to this woman’s career, her mistakes, her successes, and her César awards. 

Copyright IFC Films

The film jumps thematically, touching on fame, memory, and family. Throughout the movie, Fabienne works with a supporting role on a new film with “memories” in the title. It’s a film about the memories we have, the ones we hold onto, the ones we forget, and the way these memories shape our relationships. Lumir (Binoche) struggles to see her mother in a positive light because of these memories, and Fabienne’s memories just feel a bit jumbled as a whole. 

“The Truth” sets a path for Kore-eda to have continued success in different languages and countries, opening up a breadth of actors in his lexicon.”

But the conversations that these people are having on porches, in backyards, and sitting for dinner find Kore-eda at his best. The dialogue is snappy and intentional. Words don’t feel wasted, even if the characters themselves have been wasting words on one another for the majority of their lives. In the middle of the film, you can almost see the alternate world of acclaimed filmmaker Olivier Assayas’s “Summer Hours”, another Binoche drama set in a wealthy home in France. 

The film’s strongest moments end up being those with Binoche and Deneuve on screen, just chatting with one another, arguing with a mixture of pain and love. It’s a different Kore-eda in many ways, but it still has his love for capturing familial emotions, those bottled and those that have been laid bare for generations, bringing the best out of Binoche and Deneuve in the process.

Copyright IFC Films

It’s not trying to be a follow-up to “Shoplifters” or really attempting to capture the same magic. “The Truth” sets a path for Kore-eda to have continued success in different languages and countries, opening up a breadth of actors in his lexicon. Not every beat hits its mark, but “The Truth” is a great way to spend an afternoon, one with esteemed performers looking inward and examining the family members we don’t get to choose, or at least those we aren’t ready to leave.

AVAILABLE IN SELECT THEATERS, DIGITAL & CABLE VOD JULY 3RD

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