Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
Written by: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke and Clementine Grenier
In Hirokazu Koreeda’s first film to be made outside his native Japan, he swaps the slums of Tokyo, the setting for his Palme D’Or winning Shoplifters (2018), for high society Paris. Aging French screen legend Catherine Deneuve, once muse to legendary directors like Luis Bunuel, Roman Polanski, Agnes Varda and Francois Truffaut, plays- well- an aging French screen legend, Fabienne Dangeville. She is releasing her autobiography, entitled Le Vèritè (The Truth). The film begins with a journalist interviewing her about her career, in connection with the launch of her memoirs. As she sits in her elegantly decorated country house, Fabienne comes across as confident yet dismissive. She is not even sure if some of her peers are dead or alive. Her trusty PR verbally edits some of her more insensitive and controversial answers.
Fabienne’s daughter, Lumir (Binoche), is visiting her with her husband Hank (Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Grenier), from New York, where Lumir is a screenwriter and Hank is an actor. They enter through a vast and beautiful garden. They meet a giant tortoise named Pierre on the way. This is not a Disney film. However, Koreeda is not afraid of adding some whimsical touches to his latest work. Charlotte is young enough to still believe in magic. One of Fabienne’s most famous roles involved her playing a Witch in an adaptation of a children’s book. Who did Grandma turn into, a tortoise? Charlotte wonders. Fabienne holds a different kind of spell over her daughter. Lumir complains about the part of the book where Fabienne claims she picked her up from school every day. This is a lie. In fact, Fabienne wasn’t much of a mother to Lumir growing up. She admits she would rather be celebrated as a great actress by the public than have Lumir think of her as a good mother.
This is a cross Lumir has to bear, but rarely does Koreeda veer into melodrama. Lumir has a loving husband and a good relationship with her daughter. She is happy in her own life. Even an argument at a dinner table, a typical genre trope, is underplayed. Fabienne is currently filming a sci-fi film, Memories of my Mother. Lumir attends the set on numerous occasions; lines between fact and fiction are blurred and run parallel between Fabienne’s acting project and her real-life relationship with her daughter. Lumir must reconcile with the fact that she can never tell if her mother is being genuine or whether she is just simply practicing her craft. Family relationships are a strong thematic motif in Koreeda’s work. While his emotive 2013 film, Like Father, Like Son, focused on the nature of paternal relationships, The Truth focuses on mothers and their daughters. However, any audience member looking for a cathartic, tear-jerking scene will be largely disappointed by this retrained effort from the Japanese filmmaker.
Koreeda has fun with his European setting and the stature of his two leads within the pantheon of European cinema. Both French actresses are considered to be the best of their generation. Deneuve a muse for the aforementioned directors, Binoche for the likes of Jean Luc-Godard, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke and Claire Denis, to name just a few. Fabianne says at the beginning of the film that ‘Poetry is necessary in film, whether it’s about violence or the daily grind’. There is poetry in watching Deneuve and Binoche act. Koreeda also finds moments of poetry in The Truth, even though it is one of the more lightweight entries in his ever expanding filmography.