Truth is a slippery thing. So are lies. There are bald-faced lies, little white lies, and evasions. But there are also constructs; stories and parables that aren’t necessarily true but point to an underlying and undeniable truth.
Where the lies end and the constructs begin — and the truth at the center — is the overarching theme in The Truth (La vérité), the latest film from Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda — his first outside his native country.
The story is of Fabienne (Catherin Deneuve), an aging French actress cast in a science-fiction tale of mothers and daughters. Fabienne has penned her memoirs, La vérité, fully-loaded with false sentiments and fabricated events. That upsets her daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche), who’s come to Paris with husband, Hank (Ethan Hawke), and daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier).
The Truth is a talky film — one that seems to continue conversations started in Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction (also starring Binoche) — and, at first, lacks focus or direction. Then the narrative locks into place, and, like being fed a far-fetched tale, the subtext and meanings behind the construction suddenly hold water.
The Truth is also a quiet film full of close-ups of some of cinema’s greatest actors. In one scene, Fabienne and Lumir watch a playback monitor during the filming of the movie Fabienne is acting in. Fabienne critiques the actor playing her character at an early age, specifically saying the improv she just came up with isn’t as intelligent as the other actors and director seem to think it is. I could have come up with that, Fabienne mumbles. Lumir doesn’t respond verbally but watch how Binoche manages to repress an outburst decades in the making in a matter of seconds. That’s a heavy sigh Binoche gives. One that beautifully illustrates that no matter how old you grow, the child will always roll their eyes at the parent.
The Truth is loaded with those moments: Quiet and profound; humorous and cutting. Ultimately, the movie falls short by a lack of revelation or a twisting climax. Everything resolves nicely — maybe too nicely. Using fades as ellipses, Kore-eda punctuates each act. When the movie fades out on Binoche’s knowing smile for the third time, it feels like the story has been told, and the movie is over. Then, another image: Morning. A short and (a little too) sweet coda. It’s as if Kore-eda isn’t ready to say goodbye. But like bidding farewell to a dinner guest at the restaurant only to discover you’ve both parking next to each other in the lot, those last few moments just feel awkward.
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Produced by Muriel Merlin
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clémentine Grenier, Manon Clavel, Ludivine Sagnier, Roger Van Hool
IFC Films, Not yet rated, Running time 106 minutes.