The biggest surprise of “The Truth”- a middling, maudlin and altogether predictable film in the “miserable rich people drink wine and cry” vein- may come in the credits.
Because this cast is stacked: 14-time Cesar Award nominee Catherine Deneuve, Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche and Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke among others. And the whole endeavor is overseen by Hirokazu Kore-eda, who is himself an Academy Award nominee and a Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival.
Which makes you wonder just what drew these very talented folks to “The Truth.” It is an utterly conventional melodrama of the highest order with capital-A acting but little in the way of memorable characters or plot.
The plot revolves around Fabienne (Deneuve), a veteran French actress whose memoir, also called “The Truth,” has just been published. The occasion brings Fabienne’s daughter Lumir (Binoche) across the sea from the U.S. along with her husband (Hawke) and young daughter (Clementine Grenier).
You can probably predict the family melodrama that unfolds next. “The Truth” – the book, not the movie- has little truth in it, which brings up decades of resentments on the part of Lumir.
These resentments are mostly of the “white people problems” variety that I suspect many viewers will have trouble connecting with. It can be hard to feel bad for a woman whose biggest grievance is that her mother never picked her up from school.
There are some interesting plot wrinkles, including Fabienne’s feelings of remorse and regret related to a fellow actress’s suicide, but, on the whole, there’s not much to write home about in terms of plot or dialogue. The sole reason for this film’s existence is the performances, and they are often quite charming.
Deneuve plays Fabienne with the sort of understated regality that only she can. Binoche is gentle and sweet, and her lovely performance plays out more through facial expressions and gestures than through dialogue.
Hawke is something of a wild card, and he’s not the sort of guy I’d expect to pop up in an arty French film. But he gives a laid-back and funny performance that threatens to steal the show from Deneuve and Binoche.
Even at the film’s worst and most melodramatic, Kore-eda never loses sight of his characters’ humanity, which is admirable and doesn’t always happen in this genre. Just ask the folks behind “After the Wedding.”
This may be Kore-eda’s most accessible film – both because it is partially in English and because of its family-friendly PG rating (for thematic and suggestive elements and for smoking and brief language). But little on the screen holds viewer interest long enough to sustain them through the interminable subtitles. For better or worse, this is not “Parasite.”
Kore-eda deserves credit for taking a big leap from his native Japanese to French, but he takes few other chances. “The Truth” is a deeply conventional film from an often excitingly unconventional filmmaker.
It is just fine, as it goes, but given the level of talent in front of and behind the camera, “The Truth” should have been better. It feels like a missed opportunity for all involved.
“Poetry is necessary in film- whether it’s about violence of the daily grind,” Fabienne says early in “The Truth,” and she’s right. But there’s little poetry in “The Truth.” Just a whole lot of grind.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clementine Grenier
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Release Date: July 3, 2020