Hirokazu Koreeda turns to Europe for a French-language family drama with comic undertones that spans the generations in The Truth.
Maman Dearestby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Catherine Deneuve plays to perfection monstrous ageing French movie star Fabienne, living in autumnal splendour in undefined relationships with her manager and husband/ex-husband. She is about to launch her much-bowdlerised memoirs ironically titled La Verité (The Truth).
For her screenwriter daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) it’s anything but the truth about their relationship as she was growing up, but Fabienne brushes this aside as a minor quibble.
Fabienne is filming a trashy science-fiction film ironically titled Memories of My Mother, which jumbles up the timeline of a mother/daughter relationship in ways only sci-fi can. On her visit to Fabienne, Lumir is accompanied by her (non-French-speaking) soap-actor has-been husband (Ethan Hawke) and little daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier), who steals the cross-generational show as living litmus paper of the truth, a clear-sighted pivotal role.
Koreeda contrives an intricate fugue on memory, truth, lies, fact, fiction and fairy tale through the prism of a complicated mother/daughter relationship. Deneuve is magnificent and stately: Binoche is totally her equal. It looks beautiful. Events in Fabienne’s mansion are lit sympathetically and the cinematography of her film set is mischievous. Koreeda, as evidenced in Shoplifters, which rightly won the Palme d’Or in 2018, is a director who gets the best from children.
But… does it ever seem entirely natural when directors make films in languages they do not themselves speak? Directors from very different, more disciplined cultures seem fascinated by the surface physicality and – to them – undisciplined chaos of European family life. For example Spain in Spanish-language Everybody Knows, directed by Iranian Asghar Farhadi, which never seems to ring quite right, though his Paris-set French-language The Past does better. Is the stiltedness in Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe intentional? Pedro Almodóvar has two English-language projects, possibly Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women and an adaptation of Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine and Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul has Memoria. Both directors are working with actor Tilda Swinton. We shall see whether these work out.
That said, it’s wonderful to see Deneuve and Binoche striking comic sparks off each other in an absorbing, if not totally satisfying, movie with a movie within it.
The Truth premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is released on Curzon Home Cinema on 20 March 2020.