Last year, acclaimed Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda made his masterpiece, the Palme d’Or-winning ‘Shoplifters’. A film ostensibly about robbers who find an abandoned child, take her home and treat her way better than her biological parents ever did, or will do. This time out, Kore-eda is opening the Venice Film Festival and vying for the Golden Lion. In ‘The Truth’, the family relationships are more straightforward than in ‘Shoplifters’, but the damage that parents inflict on their children is just as significant.
If a new Kore-eda film isn’t enough to get you excited, the regal pairing of Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as mother and daughter should do the trick. Unfortunately, Kore-eda also seems to have had his head swayed by his storied stars, as his usual control and mastery is not apparent here. The actors seem to have too much free scope to dance to their own beat, and the result is performances that feel showy rather than nuanced.
At least there’s a good reason for the superstar casting in this tale about the blurred line between fact and fiction and how memory plays tricks on us. Kore-eda makes use of the stellar reputations of Deneuve, Binoche and Ethan Hawke, who plays Binoche’s boozy husband to land several cutting in-jokes. François Ozon demonstrated in ‘8 Women’ and ‘Potiche’ the fun to be had in watching Deneuve pastiche herself. Much of the early joy in ‘The Truth’ can be found in her performance.
When a journalist interviews Deneuve in the film’s opening moments, it’s initially unclear whether the actress is playing herself or a fictional persona. The answers she gives, from sleeping with directors to being an elder statesperson in the film industry, could be from her own biography. It’s when she names fictional films and actresses that it becomes clear that Deneuve is playing a character, Fabienne.
Fabienne has written a memoir and invited her New York-based screenwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche) to attend the book launch in Paris. Her daughter and her family arrive in the middle of the interview, whereupon she mocks Hawke’s alcoholic son-in-law for calling himself an ‘actor’. Typically, Hawke shows how game he is by bearing the brunt of this joke. Unfortunately, the humour never rises above much above this level of mild
It’s when Kore-Eda adds pathos to the story, by having Binoche’s Lumir take centre stage that ‘The Truth’ loses traction. Lumir makes some realisations – that her mother is not so beastly after all and that maybe her own memories are slanted – that feel sugary. The feelgood tone begins to jar.
What is it about cinema’s big prizes that have reliably brilliant directors abandoning their natural turf and trying to create jury-friendly masterpieces? Usually, they fall flat: just ask Asghar Farhadi, whose Oscar-winning ‘A Separation’ was followed by Cannes stinker ‘The Past’. At least, Kore-eda manages a half-decent effort with ‘The Truth’.