‘The Truth’ Movie Review

When you have a cast consisting of French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche together with American actor Ethan Hawke, that’s attraction enough. Further, a film written and helmed by the Cannes winning Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda (Shoplifters, 2018) adds an intriguing element, as this is his first non-Japanese film shot outside of his home country.

Deneuve plays an aging French film actress, Fabienne Dangeville, who has just written a memoir. Already 50,000 sold––and boasting to her daughter twice that number––the success in book sales, however, cannot rescue her from the dimming of her career as a film star.

Reminiscent of French director Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) where Binoche herself plays a French actress sinking into oblivion as prime acting roles go to the younger and much more popular personalities. But The Truth is lighter in mood and sprinkled with comedic effects and subtle humour.

Fabienne’s daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), a screenwriter living in New York, comes all the way to Paris on the occasion of her mother’s book publishing, her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke), an actor, and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) in tow. To Lumir, it’s a homecoming after a long while. Cracks between her and her overbearing mother surface as soon as she enters the house.

First off, she’s upset that Fabienne didn’t let her read the manuscript before publication as she had promised. Now reading it for the first time that night, anger replaces disappointment. She confronts her mother the next morning:

 “Who are you kidding? I can’t find any truth in here.”

Fabienne, of course, doesn’t care what her daughter thinks. It’s her memoir, her take. In the book, she presents herself as a loving mother, like finding joy in picking her daughter up from school. Lumir says it’s untrue, for her mother had never picked her up from school, always her dad Pierre (Roger Van Hool) or the family’s faithful servant Luc (Alain Libolt). Her memory of Fabienne is an absent mother who basks in the limelight of her own stardom. In reply, Fabienne says:

“I’m an actress. I won’t tell the naked truth. It’s far from interesting.”

As for Hank, effectively played by Hawke, his duty seems to be there only to support his wife. Not knowing French, Hank is a complete outsider. And in the eyes of his celebrity mother-in-law, he can hardly be called an actor. Daughter Charlotte has a few delightful scenes on the subject of truth and fantasy.

The next day, they all follow Fabienne to the studio for the rehearsal of a film she’s in, but playing a minor role with the major star being a younger, reputed actress Manon Lenoir (Manon Clavel). Now the conflict shifts from mother daughter to that of the fading star and rising talent.

The studio setting is another layer Koreeda has created to bring out cinematic ‘truth’. The green screen itself by its very function works as a fake background, ‘deceiving’ in its purpose. Further, special touch up can alter even the eye colour of the actor. And most hilarious of all, but all wrapped in a serious tone, what we see is an intense scene between two characters alone on screen is actually hovered over in a short distance by a horde of people who are not in costume doing their real-life job. Sarcasm and humour are the subtle effects from scenes like that. Koreeda’s insight is astute in revealing what filmmaking is: fiction pretending to be real.

The middle part of The Truth about the studio shooting is a little weighed down as a play-within-a-play based on a short story by the acclaimed science fiction writer Ken Liu. This section of the movie is complex and multi-layered. While intriguing, it requires more than one viewing for clarity. This too, could well be Koreeda’s intension as he directs a French film, inserting a story within a story, which is a French artistic device, the mise en abyme. Like standing between two mirrors, one can see multiple images.

Overall, The Truth is a light-hearted feature, leisurely paced with embedded humour. Koreeda’s intention might be more cerebral than comical. The cast in itself is appealing enough, presenting a piece of cinema verité showing that truth is elusive even among the closest of family or the most sincere of artistic expressions.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Truth is now on Netflix.

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In participation of Paris in July hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea

Related Ripple Reviews:

Clouds of Sils Maria directed by Olivier Assayas

Our Little Sister directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

Clouds of Sils Maria Movie Review

Clouds of Sils Maria is an intricately conceived rumination on the passage of time, ageing, being female, being famous, and for that matter, being gradually becoming obsolete. The newest film from the prominent, Paris born, French director Olivier Assayas, it was nominated for numerous awards at film festivals, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. I watched it at TIFF last September, and gladly again at the indie theatre when the film came to our city a few months ago.

Clouds of Sils Maria

A middle-aged celebrated screen and stage actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is on a train to Zurich with her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to attend a tribute to the playwright Wilhelm Melchior, who had cast her in her breakout role in one of his plays Maloja Snake some twenty years ago. At that time, Maria played a manipulative young office girl Sigrid who had an emotive relationship with her older office boss Helena, driving her to commit suicide.

While on the train to Zurich, Maria gets the news that Melchior has died, an apparent suicide due to a terminal illness. When arriving Switzerland, Melchior’s widow Rosa (Angela Winkler) lets Maria and Valentine stay in her idyllic house in the Swiss Alps, in the Sils Maria locale, while she tries to get away from the sad memories of her late husband. In that serene natural setting, Valentine helps Maria practice her lines for a revival of the play Maloja Snake, re-mounted as a tribute to the late playwright. But this time, Maria is to play the older character Helena, while a wildly popular, scandalous young star Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz, the rising star in real life) is to play Sigrid.

If you have the patience to read up to here, you likely can see the parallels: Maria and Valentine – Helena and Sigrid, as well you probably can guess the feelings Maria goes through in this role reversal, for now she is twenty plus years older, and the loss of Melchior could well be the foreshadow of an imminent path everyone has to trod, famous or not. The film is an intricately woven, multi-layered construct, with thought-provoking dialogues and incisive subtexts; the mirroring effect is brilliant especially the scenes when Valentine helps Maria practice her lines and accept the role reversal, from the young to the older.

If you appreciate the characterization and the superb performance of the actresses, you would not only bear with but savour the complexity of the dialogues and scenes. Instead of a litmus test for the viewer’s patience, the complications and layered meaning are a testament of some fine screenwriting and directing. Assayas’ signature realism and naturalistic style works marvellously well; in some scenes towards the end, the honesty is harsh and biting. 

Juliette Binoche always delivers. Here she is an ageing celebrity and star, her outward coolness masks tumultuous insecurities. She is totally natural in her role. Viewers may even feel she’s not acting at all.

But my highest praise has to go to Kristen Stewart. I admit I’m probably one of the few who have not watched, or read, any of the Twilight movies or books. So this is my first Stewart film, and I’m most impressed. She lives and breathes her character Valentine, assistant to Maria Enders. From juggling several smart phones while balancing herself on a moving train, to helping Maria practice her lines adjusting to the older role, Stewart has shown she has mastered the needed nuance, intelligence and sensitivity for her character. She has portrayed convincingly a complex female who, despite her efficiency and strength at her job as assistant to a famous but fast fading star, is herself vulnerable as a female with deep, inner yearnings and conflicts muffled only by her outward sensibility.

With her role as Valentine, Stewart went on to win the 2015 César Award for Best Supporting Actress this February in Paris, the first American actress to win the prestigious French acting award which is equivalent to the Oscar here.

Chloë Grace Moretz aptly plays the youthful, and bratty, rising star Jo-Ann Ellis. She embodies the young and famous, a celeb whom Valentine admires, but whom Maria can never understand as to how the young measures talent or shoots to the peak of popularity despite (or maybe because) of scandals. I’m sure what’s mind boggling to her could well be the thoughts in many a mind of the, alas, fading bunch of old school, superbly trained actors and iconic performers of our days.

The Largo from George Frideric Handel’s opera Serse is poignant, a solemn and grand diction of existential angst as Maria confronts the loss of her beloved and respected artistic mentor, and her own fading glory. Interestingly, the music reminds me of Kon Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters (1983), wherein this piece of music also appears, bringing out the poignancy of the passage of time, the erosion of the familiar, the end of an era, of traditions, and of treasured values.

This brings us to the very title of the film. The clouds of the Sils Maria mountain range in the Swiss Alps is famous for their sudden appearance like a snake curling and weaving around the mountains. Many have climbed the peaks only to be disappointed as the clouds may not appear while they are there. In the scene towards the end, just as Maria turns and walks away, the clouds come into view for us audience but not her, indeed, like a snake slithers silently in and in a few seconds, moves out of sight again. Ah… the ephemeral of it all. The ultimate mirroring of nature and life.

Probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year. A film that deserves – and requires – multiple viewings.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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This is my last entry to Paris in July 2015 blogging event hosted by Tamara of Thyme for Tea.

Paris in July 2015 Icon***

Other Related Ripple Effects Posts:

Conversation with Juliette Binoche

Summer Hours by Olivier Assayas

My Old Lady 

Suite Française: From Book to Film

Flight of the Red Balloon 

Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)

In honour of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien winning the Best Director award last Sunday at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, I’m re-posting a review I wrote a few years back on Hou’s Flight of the Red Balloon (2007).

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flight-of-the-red-balloon

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris has commissioned four notable directors to create a series of commemorative films. One of them is Olivier Assayas with his Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été) which I have reviewed.  Another is the highly acclaimed Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. Flight of the Red Balloon is a unique piece of film art gently crafted by Hou in homage to Albert Lamorisee’s Oscar winning short Le Ballon Rouge (1956). Hou has long been garnering awards in international film festivals throughout Europe and Asia since the 1980’s, albeit relatively unknown in North America. Flight of the Red Balloon is his first French language film.

The little boy in this 2007 rendition is Simon (Simon Iteanu), a child growing up in the hustle and bustle of Paris. With an absentee father somewhere in Montreal pursuing his writing, and a frantically busy mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), Simon is alone in an adult world. Overloaded with her work as a voice-over artist in a puppet production plus other personal matters, Suzanne hires Song (Fang Song), a film student from Beijing, to look after Simon for her.

Suzanne is the embodiment of urban frenzy. As a single mother, she has to shuttle between home and work, deal with the eviction of a bad tenant in her lower apartment, confront her non-committal husband on the phone to Montreal, and connect with her daughter in Brussel, all in a day’s work. Simon is most perplexed.  “Why are you so busy, Mama?”, he asks.

song-and-simon

Song, on the other hand, offers the tranquility that is needed to balance life in the midst of chaos. As a film student, she uses her hand-held camera to record Simon’s activities, and by her quiet demeanor and calm observing, she reflects pleasure in the mundane, everyday trivialities called life. This is reality show without sensationalism.  Hou has ingeniously conveyed his perspective of realism with artistic overtone. No doubt, there is a lack of plot, suspense, or climax, but there is character contrasts, cinematic offerings in sights and sounds, and realistic, natural performance. Juliette Binoche has once again assured me why she is one of my favorite actresses. And no, you are not watching paint dry, you are watching life unplugged.

The red balloon forms the focal point of Hou’s signature long take. The almost God-like omnipresence hovering over buildings in the Paris skyline is a joyful symbol of childhood. Its silent drifting is as elusive as the fleeting memories of happiness. Even little Simon achingly remembers the pleasant days he had shared with his much older sister, who is now living in Brussel. We are all trying to catch and hold on to fond memories and meaningful relationships. Yet as the busyness of urban living numb our senses, we ignore and shove away what we think is a hindrance to our time, just like the people rushing out of the subway station, shoving away the red balloon. Only a child would try to catch and befriend it.

Complementing the cinematic artistry is the equally mesmerizing piano music, meditative, serene and restoring, setting the mood and the preamble of the film.  Other musical numbers are equally soulful. Click here for the official IFC site where you can have a taste of the sights and sounds of the film.

felix-vallotton-le-ballon-1899I particularly enjoy the ending. As Simon goes on a school trip to the art gallery of the Musée d’Orsay, the children gather on the floor to talk about Félix Vallotton’s 1899 painting Le Ballon, he leans back, slightly removes himself from his school mates, and lays on his back. As he looks up to the glass canopy of the museum ceiling, he sees it again, the red balloon, that omnipresence, watching over him, removed yet engaged, far away, yet ever so near.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Other Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Conversation with Juliette Binoche

Tuffing it out at TIFF14

Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été) by Olivier Assayas

Yasujiro Ozu and the Art of Aloneness

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Conversation with Juliette Binoche

The highlight of my TIFF14 experience is attending the Mavericks Conversation with Juliette Binoche.

Conversations with Juliette Binoche

Director of TIFF Piers Handling structured the conversation in three sections preceded by showing excerpts of Binoche’s filmography in chronological order. Thanks to these visual gems, the audience got the sense of the actor’s wide repertoire. At fifty, Binoche has had more than thirty years of acting experience, and 50 feature films under her belt.

Juggling with my iPhone for photos, a pen and a small notebook, keeping my eyes on the maverick on stage, looking through photographers and audience sticking their hands out into the aisle and midair to take photos, I managed to jot down some sketchy notes.

Juliette Binoche knew she wanted to act at age 15 when her mother brought her to Paris to see a stage play. After she had made up her mind, “I was unstoppable.” She went to drama school in Paris, from the stage she soon landed film roles, and the rest is history.

Binoche had worked with numerous legendary directors who are cinematic icons themselves. Here are some samples:

The first director she worked with was Jean Luc Godard in Hail Mary (1985), later André Téchiné in Rendez-vous (1985), Krzysztof Kieslowski in Three Colours: Blue, White, Red (1993-94), Hou Hsiao-Hsien in Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), Abbas Kiarostami in Certified Copy (2010), Olivier Assayas in Summer Hours (2008), and now Clouds of Sils Maria at TIFF14, just to name a few.

But she has also said no to others. Stephen Spielberg came to her three times to no avail. “I don’t want to be in any system. Hollywood is a system. Not even in French system.”

Director she likes to work with: Michael Haneke (Amour, 2012; The White Ribbon, 2009) Binoche worked with him in Hidden (2005) and Code Unknown (2000).

Juliette Binoche

North American audience might have known some of her more popular works like her Oscar winning The English Patient (1996), or Chocolat (2000), but I was gratified to see clips from her lesser known works like:

The Unbearable Likeness of Being (1988, adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel, with Daniel Day-Lewis), or Three Colours: Blue (1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski directs, the first of the Trilogy)

But the stage is still very much on her mind. “I love the theatre.” She was in August Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and soon a new production of Sophocles’s Antigone on the London stage.

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Some more sketchy notes:

On long takes: “fantastic, close to life, liberation, freedom, trust, thrilling.”

On aging: “It’s truth”

On the relationship between the director, the actor, and the script:

“The actor and director are one in the film. Nothing about me. It’s the director bringing out [the script] through me. Words are written on the page then you live it, like an incarnation. You live it, bring the script to life.”

“Trust is what makes the miracle… trust between actor and director.”

On actors:

“We are incarnated philosophers.”

On genres:

“I never divide. You cannot divide things. The comic side of life and the tragic side come together… connected. I never divide into genres.”

When asked about “failure”:

“What does ‘failure’ mean? You learn about yourself through extremes, over obstacles. How you see success depends on your point of view. To me it’s a journey… taking risks, facing the unknown. That’s the joy of it.”

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Of all the film clips, one struck deep in me with inexplicable resonance. And that’s from Binoche’s Oscar winning role as the WWII nurse Hana in The English Patient (1996). For me, that was one of the most memorable movie moments of all time.

Here’s that tender scene when Hana is led by candles on the path to Kip, who then takes her to the Medieval Chapel. He harnesses and raises her up to look at the frescoe paintings on the walls. Holding a flare for light, she dangles from the ceiling, immersed in pure delight. And the music, composer Gabriel Yared’s Bach-like melody has remained in my mind ever since:

On her role playing Hana:

“She has to start from scratch. I like people who have to start over again.”

On director Anthony Minghella: “friendly and loving.”

And Michael Ondaatje’s reaction to that mesmerizing cinematic moment: “I wish I had written this scene in my book.”

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The conversations were just a little over an hour. The standing in line waiting for 90 minutes in front of CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio to get in (for a good seat to take my photos, but as you can see, still not close enough) was worth it. I likely won’t have another chance to see and hear Juliette Binoche in person again.

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