Hirokazu Kore-eda broke his long tradition of attending TIFF premieres last year for Shoplifters because he was busy preparing The Truth—his first film made and set outside of Japan, with an international cast that includes screen titans Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke. A recipe, by all accounts, for success after his Palme d’Or glory. And yet there is an overfamiliarity that permeates this narrative, focused as it is on a brittle mother-daughter relationship that is recontextualized (rather too bluntly) in a film-within-the-film being shot with Deneuve’s character, an aging screen actress named Fabienne who has just published her subjectively embellished new memoir. These meta devices, be they nested counternarratives or semi-fictional books, are best used when the story being told needs to metamorphize outwards and be given new scope; unfortunately, the tale Kore-eda is trying to tell is unable to shift away from first gear because everything is largely played on the surface. Accusations of dishonesty, muddled recollections, and the imperiling of objective memorializing for the sake of celebrity and entertainment are all laid out plainly in words and deeds, leaving little for us to imagine or speculate on too exhaustively. And for a story that is, above all these things, trying to rekindle the storge between Deneuve’s Fabienne and Binoche’s Lumir after years of estrangement, there is something rote in the path it takes, which is full of the usual acrimonious confrontations and teary-eyed confessions that mark films of this nature. It’s an expectedness that not even the efforts of Deneuve and Binoche can forego, so that the ending of implied togetherness within the greenery of France feels altogether hollow.
There is no denying the fun in watching Deneuve’s diva throw shade at her contemporaries (or, for that matter, Hawke as her inoffensive American son-in-law, who is otherwise wasted in his thankless role). In fact, most of the fun in this is in Deneuve’s barbed dialogue and withering retorts, which come with campy flourishes at every turn. The compassion with which Binoche injects Lumir is also a welcome tonic, but frankly none of the cast can save what is otherwise a banal and uninspired screenplay that feels like a lesser patchwork of ideas stitched together out of other, more superior sources. A few revisions could have yielded something better, though it’s too late for that now. What remains is a film that is distinctly, decidedly unremarkable.
The Truth had its North American premiere at TIFF in the Special Presentations programme on September 9, 2019.