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To tell 'The Truth'

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Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche are two of the great beauties of the screen, but beyond that both are first-rate actresses, and watching them spar onscreen is an undiluted delight.

That is what essentially transpires in The Truth (La Vérité), the latest film from writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda and the first he’s made outside his native Japan. Ostensibly it’s a drama about resentment and reconciliation, but Kore-eda infuses the narrative with heart and humor, making it extremely accessible for audiences.

Deneuve plays Fabienne, a legendary French actress – clearly, art imitates life here – who is visited by her daughter Lumir (Binoche), a screenwriter now living in the United States with her actor husband (Ethan Hawke) and their young daughter (adorable newcomer Clementine Grenier). The occasion is prompted by the publication of Fabienne’s memoirs.

Fabienne appears affable and nonchalant, but it’s only a façade. She’s actually a diva with a ferocious ego, flippantly condescending and dismissive. Yet further underneath, she’s insecure and vulnerable, although she would never admit to it.

Lumir is astonished by the memoir, which has little or no bearing to the childhood she remembers, and Fabienne’s ever-faithful minder Luc (Alain Libolt) abruptly retires upon reading it – because after years of service he didn’t rate so much as a single mention. Lumir cannot help but recognize the irony in the title of the film Fabienne is currently making: Memories of My Mother.

The undercurrent of tension between Fabienne and Lumir, as well as Fabienne and nearly everyone in her orbit, is expertly managed by Kore-eda, although those expecting a knock-down, drag-out battle royale between mother and daughter (a la Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 Autumn Sonata) may feel slightly let down. The Truth is more confection than confrontation, although it doesn’t want for the latter. As bitchy and disagreeable as Fabienne can be, it’s hard not to have some affection for her. Nevertheless, to its credit the film never lapses into sticky sentiment. The edginess is there, but it doesn’t take the edge off the enjoyment.

Not surprisingly, Deneuve and Binoche hold sway over the proceedings, although no one seems to mind. Hawke, for example, is a good sport on both counts: His character, Hank, blithely overlooks Fabienne’s putdowns (her assessment of him as an actor is none-too-glowing), and Hawke appears to really enjoy the company of his leading ladies as they vie for center stage, and who can blame him?

Ludivine Sagnier and Manon Clavel (in her feature debut) add further glamour as Fabienne’s co-stars in the film-within-the-film, Christian Crahay plays Fabienne’s current lover, and Roger Van Hool plays Lumir’s endearingly shaggy father, who retains affection for Fabienne despite being dumped by him years before for a director she wanted to work for – and did, winning a Cesar award (France’s equivalent of the Oscar), to boot. 

The Truth, which was originally to have screened at the 2020 RiverRun International Film Festival, offers a breezy but heartfelt diversion in these troubled times, and the sheer power that Deneuve and Binoche bring to the film simply can’t be denied. (In English and French with English subtitles)

The Truth will be available beginning Friday. For a complete list of platforms, visit the website.

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2020, Mark Burger.

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