Thursday, October 17, 2019

241. Japanese filmmaker and screenplay writer Hirokazu Kore-eda’s French/English feature film “Le vérité” (The Truth) (2019): Impressive, yet not as fascinating as a few of his earlier feature films

Hirokazu Kore-eda is undoubtedly one of the most interesting film-directors alive and making films today.  His talent to write an original script is just awesome. His scripts are so diverse in subject matter and yet linked by two common threads:  family ties and importance of ethics in life. Only a few of his films have original scripts written by someone else. He is remarkably close in his treatments of varied chosen subjects to the works of Naomi Kawase, another contemporary Japanese filmmaker, who also prefers to write her own original scripts. Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that French actress Juliette Binoche is the star of both their latest films: Kore-eda’s The Truth and Kawase’s Vision (2018).

 Fabienne (Deneuve, left) is the mother and Lumir (Binoche, right)
is her daughter

The Truth presents a tale of an aging and reputed French actress Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) who is rich enough to spend decades in outer space to counteract natural aging and return to Earth to continue her acting career looking younger than her age. This obviously means her relationship with her biological daughter Lumir (Binoche), who is now a film scriptwriter, is punctuated by 10 year gaps for the sake of her own vanity. The preposterous 10 year “sojourn” in “outer space” idea is a typical fantasy of Kore-eda that one encounters in his films occasionally. The Truth is another original screenplay of Kore-eda making his first non-Japanese language feature film with Lea Le Dimna, providing him with the French and English translation of his written script. The Truth is showcased at the Denver International Film Festival, USA, that kicks off later this month.  American audiences at the festival will be delighted to find Ethan Hawke in The Truth playing the role of Lumir’s American husband Hank, a TV actor getting good reviews in a recently completed TV series back home.

Three generations of the family:
Lumir (Binoche) and Fabienne (Deneuve, foreground) as daughter and mother;
Hank the son-in-law (Ethan Hawke) and granddaughter
Charlotte (Clementine Greniere) seated behind

In the film, The Truth, Kore-eda focuses once again on family ties, predominantly on the mother-daughter relationship taking centre stage. Ethics are also discussed in passing (Fabienne’s destruction of a rival actress’ career using unethical means) but those small details discussed in passing could easily be missed out by casual viewers.  

What is disturbing in this film is not its content but the parallels from other major works of cinema which make you scratch you head to recall whether you had seen it all before. The tale of a daughter returning with her new husband after a long hiatus to her house where she grew up, only to unravel bits and pieces of past and present in her family are remarkably close to Luchino Visconti’s Venice Golden Lion winning film Sandra (1965). The apprehensions of an aging famous actress not being able to impress in front of the camera and being increasingly forgetful of her lines while shooting is remarkably close to the story of John Cassavetes’  Berlin’s Silver Bear winner  Opening Night  (1977) with his wife Gena  Rowlands  impressing us just as much as Ms Deneuve  does in The Truth.  On the other hand, Ms Deneuve gives us a magnificent performance in The Truth, to the extent we are constantly hypnotized by the two wonderful lead actresses, Deneuve and Binoche facing off their turbulent mother-daughter relationships.  Kore-eda also introduces within the film the filming of Fabienne’s recently published autobiography as added fodder to make the screenplay richer and provide yet another dimension for Deneuve to project herself with subtle differences in the film within the film.

A rare scene of the city of Paris in the film
detailing the relationship between the second and third generations
(left to right: Binoche, Greniere and Hawke)

The hairdo of Fabienne,
a likely homage to Tarkovsky's Mirror

In the middle of The Truth the viewer’s attention is led by the clever script to Fabienne’s hair and how it’s combed differently by daughter and granddaughter.  Then the camera captures Fabienne’s hairdo taken from behind her head that will remind any cineaste of Andrei Tarkovsky's mother’s hairdo while sitting on a fence in Mirror (1975), a sequence which was recreated in homage much later by Turkish director Semih  Kaplanoglu in his film Milk (2008). In both the Russian and the Turkish films the subject is the son’s (director’s) view of their mothers.  In The Truth, too, it is a perspective of the relationship between mother and daughter and granddaughter, using hair as a visual focal point.

If we discount the similarities to the two earlier films, The Truth offers awesome performances (Deneuve, Binoche, and  Hawke, in particular) and a very intelligent script that dissects relationships within families. As in most Kore-eda feature films, the subject of The Truth is not limited to a single generation but presents interactions between three generations—which is why the film offers much fodder for thought than is obvious. Even as this writer is a Kore-eda fan who has watched 13 of his 14 feature films, The Truth is not his most rewarding film—three other films The Third Murder (2017), Shoplifters (2018) and Maborosi (1995), are far superior.  But The Truth is well worth your time, if you like Kore-eda, Visconti or Cassavetes.

P.S. Kore-eda’s The Third Murder and Kawase’s Vision (2018) have earlier been reviewed on this blog. The reviews of Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975) and Kaplanoglu’s Milk (2008.) can also be accessed on this blog by clicking on the names of the films on this post-script. The author’s list of the best 15 active filmmakers includes Kore-eda. The author's ranking of the 13 Kore-eda films can be viewed hereThe Truth is among the author's top 20 films of 2019.

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