An icon plays an icon as Catherine Deneuve steps into the role of a French cinema legend who reunites for a rocky reunion with her screenwriter daughter (Juliette Binoche) in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s elegant drama The Truth. The Japanese master delivers his first film made outside his home country, in French and English – two languages not his own, and loses not a step in an intimate drama that unfolds between the family home and a Paris soundstage.
What brings Lumir (Binoche) back into her screen star mother Fabienne’s (Deneuve) orbit is the publication of Fabienne’s memoir. Arriving with her American TV actor husband Hank (a delightfully rakish Ethan Hawke) and young daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) at her childhood home (which somehow abuts a prison – no heavy-handed symbolism there!), Lumir has her back up, ready for battle with her difficult parent. The memoir full of Fabienne’s selective memories doesn’t help. Luc (Alain Libolt), the manager who has seen to all the little details of Fabienne’s life, is never mentioned in the book. More enraging for Lumir, neither is Suzanne, her mother’s late friend and fellow actress, and a woman with a warmer maternal instinct toward Lumir than self-absorbed Fabienne.
The fact that Fabienne’s latest role opposite rising star Manon (Manon Clavel) is a mother-daughter sci-fi drama only underlines the tensions in the real-life relationship. Nevertheless, even as Fabienne’s familiar brusqueness, selfishness, and lack of filter grate on Lumir, the daughter stays, going so far as becoming a kind of assistant, accompanying her mom to the set every day.
Fabienne is a monster mother, a narcissist who is at an age where she cannot even be bothered with social niceties, yet she is not lacking in self-awareness. Deneuve plays her brilliantly. Fabienne can be cruel – she does not hesitate to insult her son-in-law’s acting talent, for example – but on a certain level she understands what her egotism has cost her. She loves and needs her daughter. She understands how she hurt Luc in leaving him out of her book. She even grasps that her catty attitude toward Manon has less to do with an upstart taking her role in the spotlight than how the young woman reminds her and Lumir of Suzanne.
The film-within-a-film spins the tale of an astronaut, returned to Earth after a long voyage and untouched by age, communing with a daughter now older than she, and symbolizes the relathionship between Fabienne and Lumir. One has the impression, Lumir was the more emotionally mature one from a young age, and Fabienne is now just beginning to catch up.
Kore-eda begins his story in summer, ending his story as winter descends on Paris. It’s a delightful irony for a tale that begins with a seemingly insurmountable emotional iceberg between mother and daughter only to unexpectedly thaw. An exploration of love and anger, of a parent’s mistakes and a child’s resentment gradually transforms into something warmer and more generous, an acknowledgement that at least some of the time, it is possible to move past the hurt and forge a stronger bond. The performances by Deneuve and Binoche, these giants of French cinema, are spectacular, as they explore the tension and the love between two complicated women searching for, as the film’s title suggests, a kind of truth. – Pam Grady
The Truth is playing in selected theaters and is available on VOD platforms.