▶︎ The Truth is available on Curzon Home Cinema, Blu-ray and DVD.

It’s not a Japanese landscape of cherry blossoms but Parisian autumn leaves that greet the audience in The Truth, Koreeda Hirokazu’s first film shot in France and in French, starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. The story may suggest a filmmaker risking the trappings of French cliché, but Koreeda subverts them with a sense of humour and tenderness very much his own.

Deneuve plays film actress Fabienne Dangeville, a diva first seen drinking green tea (“Not hot enough”, she complains) with a journalist who is struggling to interview her without being eaten alive. Fabienne is glamorous – and deliciously wicked when she casually checks, with her lifetime manager, which of her contemporaries from the old days are dead and alive. She lives in a suburban manor house surrounded by a fairytale-like garden inhabited by a giant tortoise, and in come her screenwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche), her husband Hank – a discreetly successful TV actor played by Ethan Hawke – and their young daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to trigger the plot of The Truth.

The visitors have come from New York, where they live, to celebrate the publication of the great actress’s memoirs, titled La Verité (The Truth). But perhaps ‘celebrate’ is too grand a word. Lumir is more invested in proof-reading the book’s content, while her mother greets her with a chilly embrace. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. As Binoche and her family venture into the garden, the little girl is in awe at the size of her famous grandmother’s house. “It looks like a castle,” Charlotte says. And it looks as if Deneuve’s character will live up to the wicked witch role.

The Truth certainly treads on dangerous ground: a film starring a star playing a star, featuring a cathartic family reunion and the fascinated gaze of a filmmaker on a culture, a cinema and a city that have blinded others before him. But Paris in the film is pretty much left as an idea, an anecdote in the background, while it is the family home and the set of Fabienne’s next film that really frame the story.

Binoche and Deneuve with Ethan Hawke as Hank in The Truth

As The Truth develops, the familiar themes of Koreeda’s cinema start taking shape: the fine line between fact and fiction when it comes to how we live and see our lives; the weight of the past; ageing; the family. Deneuve both embodies a Koreeda character and plays with her own on- and off-screen persona – walking her dog in a leopard-skin coat and sunglasses and behaving like a difficult star, cruel, vulnerable at times and measuring her emotions with a skill that is the domain of seasoned actors. She’s funny too, as when letting out a dismissive “Bof…” at the mention of Brigitte Bardot, the star of another La Verité (by Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1960).

A shadow in the past – the accident or suicide that ended the life of an actress and rival of Fabienne in her youth – is used as an emotional MacGuffin to bring mother and daughter into confrontation. That the film Fabienne is shooting is about a difficult mother-daughter relationship is also used to make the tensions rise, although this element is rarely taken in the direction we might expect in a family drama. Indeed, this is quite a joyous ride of a film: an occasion to enjoy Deneuve at her best and to see how Koreeda explores the secrets and lies we tell ourselves and those closest to us. In that sense, the apple – or the cherry – doesn’t fall that far from Koreeda’s previous film, Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters.

 

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Originally published: 29 August 2019