THE TRUTH: A Quietly Compelling Portrait of Family and Fame

Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche shine in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first French/English-speaking feature film

Early on in The Truth, Catherine Deneuve’s legendary actress Fabienne responds to a rote interview question about her influences: “I’ve never considered that. I’ve always been myself.” It’s easy, though, to read into her own current performance — in the latest from Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda, we delve into Fabienne’s careful cultivation of her own persona. From her latest role on camera for a mid-budget sci-fi film to her aloof hosting of her estranged daughter’s family, Fabienne is careful to never let a false note slip. But the publication of Fabienne’s titular memoirs brings out daughter Lumir’s (Juliette Binoche) inherited combative spirit, and mother and daughter exchange a terse war of words and memories as both struggle with their own roles as mothers and women in their own respective lives.

Much like his previous work, The Truth finds Kore-eda meditating on the nature of the ties that bind — here, he takes his ever-curious eye to those who find themselves in the familial orbit of stardom. Kore-eda’s camera often relates Lumir’s gaze on Fabienne to the cameras filming her, creating an indelible link between the mother she’s lived with and the screen idol beloved by the general public. It’s a strange feeling Binoche and Kore-eda skillfully dramatize, to feel like a voyeur within your own family. As such, Lumir’s frustrations with Fabienne’s falsehoods in her memoirs, from idyllic childhoods to erasure of key family members, are wholly palpable — it’s less of a battle of correcting Fabienne’s memoirs and more of Lumir’s last attempt to preserve her own memories — the one thing not infected by Fabienne’s meticulously constructed public life. But Lumir also treats the experience of watching her mother work on set as a rare opportunity to peek into her mother’s inner world — by seeing the contradictions between her private life and on-screen performance, Lumir (and her audience) may be able to glean something from that electric space in between.

Treated with equal quiet ferocity is Fabienne’s growing compulsion to keep up appearances — which goes into overdrive as the silver screen idol finds herself relegated to a deliberately age-centric role in a film whose central actress, an up-and-comer like Fabienne back then, doesn’t age while her daughter’s life moves on past her. As on-the-nose as the metaphor may be, Deneuve handles this anxiety with playful deftness: around the ingenue, Fabienne’s aloofness feels strained and self-conscious, which Lumir quickly picks up on for future ammunition later. It’s an unexpected turn in a mother-daughter relationship film — as the roles these women play, the careful infallible images they construct for their family and public find themselves unraveling as quiet mortality seeps in.

Many other supporting characters provide further shading to our central heroines — from Fabienne’s loyal (to a point) companion Luc (Alain Libolt) to Lumir’s semi-successful TV actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke). Both actors make for their own compelling scenes, each recognizing what roles they have to play in facilitating their partners’ own self-images. Luc increasingly finds his selfless efforts invalidated by Fabienne’s carelessness; Hank, on the other hand, recognizes while he’s happy with the successful life he and Lumir have created for their daughter, it pales in comparison to the love and validation Lumir seeks from Fabienne. Much like Kore-eda’s winking perspective of directing a film about actresses and personae, it’s fun (and heartstring-pulling) to see these actors reckon with their own supporting roles.

But make no mistake — this is by far Deneuve and Binoche’s film. Both are as lovely and compelling as ever — and Kore-eda’s first non-Japanese film gracefully depicts their barbed exchanges with no amount of bias towards either persona. Much like his previous film Shoplifters, Kore-eda recognizes that it’d be a failing to validate one characters’ anxieties over another — it’s their universal self-interest and capacity for connection that draws us as much into Fabienne and Lumir’s orbit as they are attracted to each other.

While The Truth isn’t as immediately impactful or heart-wrenching as Kore-eda’s other work, it still remains a delightful, introspective escape into the linked worlds of family and film, anchored by two commanding performances by its legendary lead actresses.

The Truth is now available on VOD and digital platforms from IFC Films.

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