The Truth (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A mildly interesting trial by Hirokazu Kore-eda

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Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest work “The Truth”, his first non-Japenese film which was also the opening film at the Venice International Film Festival of this year, is a mildly interesting drama revolving around an aging self-centered actress and several other characters close to her. Although the movie is rather superficial in terms of story and characters, we can sense Kore-eda simply having a little fun outside his usual territory, and I enjoyed that aspect despite some reservation due to its weak aspects.

When Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) is visited by her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), she is about to participate in the shooting of some SF movie as a key supporting player. In that film, she is going to play an aging woman whose mother remains young as staying in space for extending her lifetime, and she is not so particularly pleased about playing this role mainly because the young actress who is going to play her character’s mother reminds her and others a lot of an old rival actress of hers, who has incidentally been dead for many years.

Anyway, the mood in her residence feels a little brightened because Lumir comes along with her American actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their dear little daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier). Although she is not exactly that close to her mother, Lumir soon comes to work as a replacement for her mother’s longtime assistant after he suddenly decides to quit, and both Hank and Charlotte enjoy being around Fabienne, who certainly amuses and entertains them a lot with her inherent charm and personality.

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However, we also observe some old resentment between Fabienne and Lumir, who wanted to be an actress just like her mother but eventually became a screenplay writer instead. She is not so pleased about how false her mother’s recently published memoir is in many aspects, and we come to gather that Fabienne was not a very good mother to her daughter in the past. As a matter of fact, Lumir fondly remembers that old rival actress of her mother instead, who was kind and generous to her in more than one occasion.

Meanwhile, Fabienne goes through the shooting schedule of that SF movie as planned, and Lumir and her family accompany Fabienne to watch how Fabienne works. We see the busy, crowded environment of a big movie studio set, and we later get a small amusing moment between Charlotte and a little young girl who is going to play the youngest version of Fabienne’s character. As watching this moment, I was reminded of how effortlessly Kore-eda has drawn good natural acting from child actors, and he surely demonstrates here that his abilities and talents are not hindered much by language barrier.

Fabienne and the aforementioned young actress subsequently go through the script reading along with the other cast members of their film, and we come to sense the subtle tension between Fabienne and that young actress. As a woman who has enjoyed her stardom for many years, Fabienne cannot help but feel eclipsed by her younger co-star, and she becomes more anxious when she performs during the shooting of a big scene between her and her younger co-star.

In the meantime, Fabienne’s relationship with Lumir becomes a little more strained than before. Often reminded of how self-centered her mother is, Lumir tries her best to assist her mother, but, not so surprisingly, there eventually comes a moment when she and her mother have a very honest private conversation, which ends with a painfully comic moment reminding us and Lumir again of Fabienne’s incorrigible self-centered side.

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In the end, nothing much is resolved for Fabienne and other characters around her, but the movie regards them with warm understanding and sensitivity like many of Kore-eda’s notable works including “Shoplifters” (2018), which garnered him the Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in last year. They are flawed in one way or another, but they are presented with human aspects with we can emphasize with, and the movie even shows some care to Fabienne’s two different pets, each of which has each own moment in the film.

Under the gentle direction of Kore-eda, who edited the film in addition to writing the screenplay as usual, three main cast members of the movie dutifully fill their respective parts as much as required. While Catherine Deneuve, who is one of a few lucky star actresses who have aged well with grace and charisma, is suitably cast as an old but charming woman who cares about her acting career more than anything else, Juliette Binoche ably complements Deneuve with her earthy appearance, and Ethan Hawke has no problem at all in playing a likable American dude around Deneuve and Binoche, though you may be reminded of how he was more interesting as playing along with Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy.

On the whole, “The Truth” is enjoyable for watching its three talented main cast members strolling along Kore-eda’s relaxed narrative, but it is two or three steps down from “Shoplifters” and other better works of Kore-eda, and its overall result is a rather disappointing to me. Yes, watching Deneuve, Binoche, and Hawke together on the screen is indeed something you cannot see everyday, so I recommend it for now, but, folks, please do not expect something as sublime and powerful as “Shoplifters”.

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