A stunning film from a great cast and crew, ‘The Truth’ is an emotional roller coaster with two of the best performance of the year so far.
Sometimes an electric dynamic between actors is all that is needed to take a film from good to great. Chemistry in a romance is one such case and was put on a great display in Marriage Story last year, but not the only kind. The relationship between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers in Halloween has a similar power, a bond based in fear and tension. Adversarial relationships between people with differences can also play a massive role in various films, with the relationship in Green Book being that film’s saving grace. Hirokazu Kore-eda somehow ties all three of these kinds of bonds together in The Truth, and he manages to fit them all into one relationship between two of Europe’s finest actresses.
When writer Lumir (Juliette Binoche) returns to her childhood home for the first time in years with her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier), she isn’t expecting it to be such a pivotal moment in her life. Yet re-entering the circle of Lumir’s mother, award-winning actress Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) comes at a cost. As Fabienne prepares to restage her comeback role, Lumir and her family watch the house fall apart. Fabienne’s relationship with Lumir was damaged years ago in events we never fully are explained, and that trauma resurfaces. Fabienne has also recently written her memoir, which paints her relationship with Lumir in a far different light.
The memoir, which translates to The Truth in English, is one of many issues for Lumir. Lumir’s own relationship with daughter Charlotte is built on trying to be better than Fabienne was to Lumir. But as Fabienne tries to play the Good Grandmother, Lumir sees what she had missed in her decade away from home. These problems and more cause strife for the people in Fabienne’s house over the period of the film. Her current lover, ex-husband, cast members, and staff all come in and out of her life. But never once does Fabienne look outside of herself. Instead, the oblivious Lumir and the narcissistic Fabienne study each other for an entire film, two boxers ready to make a move.
Oscar-winning Binoche and Oscar-nominated Deneuve have never worked on screen together, despite each having been in the industry for decades. Yet their pairing feels incredibly natural. Binoche plays a woman who forces her way into complete self-control of any situation, a residual from being raised by a housekeeper instead of by her parents. Deneuve, meanwhile, plays Fabienne as a looking glass version of Deneuve herself. An actress struggling with aging and finding the right part, Fabienne writes a memoir that neuters a scandalous life. Deneuve herself has quite the history, and she puts herself fully into this role. Making the film even more emotional is the possibility that it could be one of the last for Deneuve, who suffered a stroke in November of last year.
The three main actors (Hawke’s role is smaller but significant) have worked with some of the greatest directors in history. After Kore-eda made Shoplifters in 2018 and won the Palme d’Or, he decided to use that clout to unite the three talents in The Truth. The first film that the Japanese writer/director has made outside of his home country, The Truth works phenomenally as a look at art and artists. It is funny and tragic and provides a star vehicle like never before for Deneuve and Binoche. Fans of French cinema truly should check this one out.