Unlike his prior film Shoplifters which, riding the wave of praise generated from its Palme d’Or award at the Festival de Cannes in 2018, gained a wide-scale international audience, Hirokazu Kore-eda has had to be content with a mere digital release in the UK for his latest film, and French-language debut, The Truth. Perhaps it was for the best …
Based on the film’s title and the familial vibes generated from its poster, one could be excused for believing that The Truth would offer up a tale of confessions exchanged between the members of the depicted family. However, to believe so would be to discount Kore-eda’s writing tendencies as he offers up, yet again, several curveballs to his audience which inevitably result in rendering the movie very dissimilar to what one might imagine upon first glance. Indeed, in his latest film, the Japanese director takes you down a perilous path of insults, pride, lies and deceit which will leave you feeling less and less confident in your judgement skills, as each character slowly reveals their own interpretation of what they believe to be their truth.
Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) is an ageing actress who has recently published her autobiography in which she opts to bend the truth quite drastically in order to offer up something ‘interesting’ to her supposedly devout audience. She first appears to value her image in the eyes of her audience over the way she is seen and treats her own family; her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) in particular with whom she has a sensitive relationship to say the least.
This relationship will be put to the test even further after Fabienne’s manager suddenly resigns, forcing Lumir to become her mother’s temporary manager until she has finished shooting her latest film, adequately named Memories of My Mother. This film within the film of a complicated mother-daughter relationship will serve as a means of furthering Fabienne and Lumir’s revisit of their own relationship. It will also force Fabienne to face the harsh realities of ageing in the film industry as new younger up-and-coming actors and actresses ‘steal’ the spotlight , as her co-star Manon (Manon Clevan) delivers a performance worthy of her old friend Sarah who died several years ago after committing suicide.
Sarah is often mentioned throughout the picture, yet she is never truly depicted other than by Lumir briefly who considers her to have been the one to raise her in lieu of her own preoccupied mother. This lack of development does unfortunately hinder the intensity of certain scenes regarding Sarah as you are being asked to care about a character who may as well be non-existent to the viewer. However, her constant presence in the back of the protagonists’ minds does allow an interesting re-evaluation of Fabienne in regards to her past behaviour as she is confronted with the possibility of having cause her friend’s suicide.
This lack of character development is also apparent in the case of both Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche‘s characters. Whilst they both deliver superb performances, with Deneuve clearly stealing the show with her tough-to-crack personality, it is difficult to look past the fact that these characters are being played by these great actors. Kore-eda clearly tries to create ties between Fabienne and Deneuve (in particular there is a poster of one her old films Belle de Paris unsubtly displayed as her granddaughter admires her belongings, clearly hinting at one of the French actress’ most famous roles in Luis Buñuel‘s Belle de Jour). However, perhaps it does too good of a job, to the point of finding yourself forgetting their characters’ names.
The Truth has all the appearance of being Hirokazu Kore-eda’s passion project, by having the opportunity to work with two great names of both French and World cinema, and bending the distinction between reality and fiction. Unfortuately, their highly-anticipated association on a same project will not have met the heights of their talent, nor the wonders expected whenever one encounters either of these terrific names within the film industry for the last countless decades. Ultimately, one can only wish the Japanese director will come back stronger and once again hit the heights of his prior Japanese-language work.