Returning to Chicago’s annual international film festival this year was acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose film Shoplifters (2018) was one of the festival’s biggest hits last year. While that film’s Japanese setting and influence was one of its most unique and enticing qualities, this time around Kore-eda took to Paris for a strong English-French flavor. The story centers around Fabienne, played exquisitely by Catherine Deneuve. She is a French actress who has lived a fulfilling life, now at the age of seventy-two, and has just published her memoirs, her daughter, played by Juliette Binoche, brings her family to visit and celebrate. From there we peel back layers of their complicated mother-daughter relationship as Fabienne is simultaneously filming a project that has eerie similarities to her relationship with her daughter.
The mother-daughter dynamic is what fundamentally drives the film and with actors like Deneuve and Binoche, one could imagine how successful that dynamic would be. Seeing the story revolve around their relationship was tremendously refreshing, as time-and-time again we see stories built around the father-son relationship. Kore-eda doesn’t appear interested in this in the slightest, as the film’s biggest star, Ethan Hawke, takes a back seat to Binoche and Deneuve. They even go out of their way to make note of Hawke’s character, Binoche’s husband, as being a “second rate TV actor.” His presence is certainly felt throughout the film, however, and he gets more than a few moments where he really gets to shine. We get to see instances of him being a supportive husband and very hands-on father. Deneuve’s character does appear to work some of her manipulative magic on him, but soon after we see Hawke’s character retreat to the comfort of his wife and daughter.
Like Shoplifters, humor has a key role in this film. This festival screening was constantly erupting into laughter as every character gets moments of comedy, but especially Deneuve. Her uppity character provides hilarity through her full-of-herself disdain for the world. Binoche’s daughter, child actor Clémentine Grenier, performs sweetly in the comedy and deserves accolades, while Binoche’s father, played by Roger Van Hool, makes for entertaining company. In this way, The Truth is very similar to Shoplifters in the effect of spending time within this family circle, learning the intricacies of their past and present relationships. Kore-eda films familial conversations as good as anyone, even scenes at the dinner table have a palpable amount of rising tension and emotional payoff.
Of Binoche and Deneuve, it can’t be overstated how critical they are to this film. It relies heavily on their ability to convey hidden emotional depth and broken truths underneath the surface. Any time the two of them are on screen you can’t help but be mystified by their presence. As the layers that cover their troubled past unravel, we only become increasingly consumed with their story and what it means for them going forward. While the emotional payoff isn’t quite as resounding as it was in Shoplifters, it still hits its mark nonetheless. Coming away from this film, one cannot help but to have fallen in love with France, with the Deneuve-Binoche tandem, with Kore-eda’s keen knack for capturing the small and making it feel great, and of course, with the idea of family itself. Hirokazu Kore-eda is here to make you look within and recognize your pain, but fear not, for beyond that pain you will find love and joy.
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