Film / Reviews

'The Truth': Kore-eda effortlessly crosses borders

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Japanese directors who film in foreign locations often find themselves out of their cultural and linguistic depth. The non-Japanese characters are stereotypes and the foreign-language dialogue is hokey. Meanwhile, the exotic setting serves only as a cliched backdrop for the Japanese protagonists, the true focus of the exercise.

But in “The Truth” (Original title: “La verite”), his first film set abroad, Hirokazu Kore-eda proves that he can step out of his comfort zone — the Japanese family drama — into another culture without wrong-footing it.

The opening film of this year’s Venice International Film Festival, “The Truth” is a drama, based on Kore-eda’s original script, about the testy reunion of a famous actress (Catherine Deneuve) and her adult daughter (Juliette Binoche) at the former’s Paris home.

The Truth (Shinjitsu)
Rating
Run Time 108 mins.
Language FRENCH, ENGLISH
Opens OCT. 11

Instead of making a faux French film, Kore-eda pursues his own concerns in his own style, while stressing the universally human over the culturally specific.

Also, in Deneuve’s deeply flawed, straight-speaking actress the director references mothers played in his films by the late, great Kirin Kiki, beginning with the 2008 “Still Walking.” In fact, in its reunion structure, “The Truth” is something of a “Still Walking” reworking.

In contrast to his domestic family dramas, which trend dark, “The Truth” has a comic lightness that feels authentically French. Or perhaps it’s more down to Deneuve, who can turn any scene or moment to good comic effect. How many actors, French or Japanese, can get a laugh from insouciantly kicking a stone while walking the dog?

As the film begins, her character, Fabienne, is publicizing her memoirs while appearing in an indie sci-fi film, playing the daughter of a mother who never ages. She is not happy with the story, with its references to mortality and its troubled mother-daughter relationship that uncomfortably echoes her own life.

Then, her scriptwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche) arrives from New York with her actor husband, Hank (Ethan Hawke), and young daughter, Charlotte (Clementine Grenier), to celebrate the publication of Fabienne’s memoir. But when Lumir discovers that Fabienne has written a book that belongs in the fiction section, she goes ballistic. Fabienne shrugs: “The truth is boring,” she says.

A key point of contention in this mother-daughter battle is Lumir’s beloved late Aunt Sarah. Omitted from the book, she was an acting rival to Fabienne and, had she lived, might have had a bigger career. When Fabienne’s young co-star (Manon Clavel) is compared favorably to Sarah, the older actress steams.

But for all her pettiness, selfishness and sins of commission and omission, Fabienne is not a monster. Neither is she just quirky and salty. The pain she inflicts is lasting and real.

Even so, the men around her — her longtime personal secretary (Alain Libolt), patient lover (Christian Crahay) and forgiving ex-husband — remain in her orbit. And the easy-going Hank and inquisitive Charlotte stay friendly with Fabienne, though at times she barely acknowledges their existence.

Will mother and daughter reconcile? Given the former’s baseline likeability, the answer seems obvious early on. And yet “The Truth” is about more than a quarrel over a book. It’s also about Fabienne’s coming to terms, on life’s last stage, with the truth. And in Deneuve’s bravura performance, it’s a struggle for the ages.

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