I do not mind watching smart, sophisticated people talking about serious subjects on the screen. Although I must confess that it took some time for getting accustomed to the works of Eric Rohmer such as “Pauline at the Beach” (1983), I eventually came to enjoy them a lot anyway, and the same thing can be said about other famous talky movies such as Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) or, yes, Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy.
That is why I had some expectation on Olivier Assayas’ new film “Non-Fiction”, which is mainly driven by numerous conversations among its smart, sophisticated main characters. Mainly thanks to its lightweight mood and the effortless interactions among its main cast members on the screen, the movie entertained me to some degree, but it is rather disappointing that the movie does not delve that deep into those various subjects popping up and down throughout the film, and I must say that I felt somehow empty-handed when I walked out of the screening room after the movie was over.
At the beginning, we observe a long conversation between two of the main characters in the film: Alain (Guillaume Canet) and Léonard (Vincent Macaigne). While Alain is the literary editor of some respectable publishing company, Léonard is a novelist who already published several novels of his, and he wants Alain to be interested in publishing his latest novel, but Alain is not particularly willing to publish it because he thinks it will not be sold as well as Léonard’s previous works.
Anyway, the conversation, which is started in Alain’s office, is continued as he and Léonard subsequently go to a nearby restaurant, and Léonard keeps trying to get Alain interested in his latest novel. As they mildly push and pull each other, their conversation often strays into other subjects including the digitalization of publication industry, and you may come to reflect a bit on the recent rise of e-Book (By the way, the original title of the movie was incidentally “E-Book”).
After this part, we are also introduced to Alain’s actress wife Selena (Juliette Binoche) and Léonard’s wife Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), who has worked as a consultant for some prominent politician. While she has enjoyed a recent career success from a very popular TV police drama series, Selena has been feeling the growing sense of ennui inside her, and that is probably why she continues her extramarital affair with Léonard. Although she is not deceived at all when her husband lies to her at one point, Valérie is mostly occupied with assisting her boss without showing much care to her husband, and that certainly widens the gap between her and her husband although they mostly remain civil to each other.
Meanwhile, it is soon revealed to us that, as Selena shrewdly guessed, her husband has someone behind his back. That person in question is his latest assistant Laure (Christa Théret), and their long private conversation in a hotel room shows how much they have been emotionally and intellectually involved with each other for a while, but then, not so surprisingly, Laure has also been involved with someone else behind her back.
As leisurely rolling these five main characters, Assayas’ screenplay constantly throws several other serious subjects to mull on. While the digitalization trend of publication industry functions as a recurring theme throughout the film, the movie also focuses on artistic responsibility when the characters in the movie talk a lot about Léonard’s novels being not entirely fictional, and I must tell you that I was amused a bit when Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” (2009) and J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) were mentioned together during a certain conversation scene.
However, as far as I could see during my viewing, many of these subjects handled in the film do not stick to the wall on the whole. Sure, the digitalization trend of publication industry is a thought-provoking subject, and, as your average bibliophile, I observed the conversations revolving around that subject with considerable interest, but, to my disappointment, the movie does not provide any particularly new insight on that subject and other subjects. For example, it is suggested later in the story that readers may come back to a more tangible medium, but, folks, that is something I have already heard from others many times before, and I was dissatisfied to see that the movie eventually did not leave much new substance for me to chew on.
Anyway, the main cast members of the movie carry the movie as well as demanded. While Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, and Vincent Macaigne are solid as usual, Christa Théret and Nora Hamzawi also hold each own place well as two other substantial parts of the story, and you will probably get a small laugh when one blatant but amusing self-conscious joke is casually thrown on one of the main cast members around the ending of the film.
Overall, “Non-fiction” is a mildly amusing comedy film which may be worthwhile to watch for its reliable main cast members, but I cannot recommend it because, in my inconsequential opinion, it is two or three steps down from Assayas’ recent works such as “Summer Hours” (2008), “Carlos” (2010), “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014), and “Personal Shopper” (2016). It is not boring at least, but it is merely talky with nothing new and interesting enough for me to talk about, and, come to think of it, that is rather ironic.