While watching writer-director Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s latest film, “The Truth,” I couldn’t shake the fact that there was something very familiar about it. Perhaps the fact that it was selected for both Venice and TIFF caused it to lodge in my brain before I actually saw it. Perhaps the trailers (and yet I am not a devotee of trailers) put it in my head. Whatever the case may be, when I sat down to see the film, I had the definite sense that I wasn’t seeing it for the first time but rather the second. I even googled it to find out whether I had written about it previously (after all, I have sat down to watch movies before only to realize I’ve already seen them). The search, happily, came up empty.
So then, why exactly does this tale ring so many bells?
The only conclusion that I have been able to reach is that, yes, at some point I saw the trailer, it instantly struck me as appealing; the cast is a memorable one; and the underlying nature of feelings portrayed in the movie are easy to understand. The specifics of this tale of a famous actress, Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve), and her estranged screenwriter daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche), reuniting when the elder is getting ready to publish a seemingly untrue memoir may be unique, but the family dynamics are universal.
As the tale goes, Lumir lives with her husband, Hank (Ethan Hawke), and their daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier), in New York, where Hank is a second-rate television actor. At the outset of the film, the three are arriving at the house where Lumir grew up, where Hank has never been, for this rare visit (Charlotte has only been once and doesn’t really remember the trip very well).
From the start, things are tense. They are tense between Lumir and Fabienne, between Lumir and Hank, between Hank and Fabienne. Over the course of the film, we learn the sources of these anxieties, we learn the family history, we learn the nature of the relationships.
There are no terribly shocking revelations. There are no emotional bombs dropped. Certainly there are still pains and upsets and wants and desires, but the entire film remains bound to the everyday sort of distresses and it’s more powerful for it. Fabienne’s being a (once) famous actress undeniably plays into the way she sees herself and Lumir’s decades-long anger, but all of the problems remain relatable to the outside world and that’s the genesis of the movie’s power.
What you are really doing when you sit down to watch “The Truth” is asking for truly powerful actors to pull you into the world of these characters and sit beside said characters as they hash out their familial problems. You couldn’t ask for better the Deneuve and Binoche for such an endeavor, both women are fantastic.
There are elements of the story that don’t work as well—the overt tying in of Fabienne’s current film project with the family’s life, for instance, feels like too perfect a mesh. Then there are things that seemingly fall by the wayside as the movie continues—Hank’s drinking and career for one. As small as these misses may be, the disappointment over them lingers. Even so, we are there to watch this mother-daughter duo come to grips with their history and their varying interpretations of the way things played out, and that we do get.
Funny and sweet and charming and sad, “The Truth” asks us all to consider the idea that maybe our recollection of events is as imperfect as the people with whom we shared the original occurrences. It asks the viewer to consider not just themselves, but those around them. Anchored by excellent performances, it is an emotional affair worth watching. By not stretch is it perfect, but then again, as the movie makes clear, neither are we.
photo credit: IFC Films