Movie review: ‘The Truth’ offers a pointed look at a mother-daughter relationship
Fabienne Dangeville (Catherine Deneuve), a past-her-prime, but still popular French film star is doing an interview at her suburban Paris home, publicizing her new tell-all memoir “The Truth.” She’s heard most of the questions before, but gives mostly thoughtful answers, except when her mind wanders a bit.
In the midst of this, her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), a screenwriter living in the States, arrives with her actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their young daughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier) to help celebrate the publication of the book.
But it’s been a while since Fabienne and Lumir have seen each other, and there is tension between them. It’s been even longer since Fabienne and Hank have seen each other. Fabienne is full of herself, and doesn’t think much of Hank’s acting abilities.
There’s also, at least for viewers, some uncertainty. Does Fabienne have two men living with her? Is easygoing Jacques (Christian Crahay) her husband or her private chef? Is attentive Luc (Alain Libolt) her husband or her manager? To make things easier for you, Jacques is her current husband, and Luc is her manager, and has been for decades.
But there are many other questions to consider.
Why, Lumir asks Fabienne, after flipping through “The Truth” for the first time - and she’s more annoyed than inquisitive - was she not allowed to read the book before it was published. Why are there all of these rose-colored deceptions about our relationship in it? Why - and this is even more important - did you not even mention Sarah?
Some answers are revealed, more questions are asked and, to paraphrase Grace Slick in the song “Somebody to Love,” much of “The Truth” is found to be lies. Then there’s the subject of Sarah, an actress and important person from Fabienne’s past who never appears in the film because she died a long time ago. But any mention of her causes different emotional reverberations in different people.
Written and directed by Hirokaza Koreeda, who gave us the overpraised “Shoplifters” a couple of years ago, and the underpraised “Nobody Knows” a decade or so earlier, “The Truth” offers an inside peek at the dynamics going on in a few family situations. There’s been a strain between Fabienne and Lumir since she was a little girl, and some of Lumir’s unpleasant memories are brought to the fore. Although all seems to be fine between Lumir, Hank, and Charlotte, there are little chinks in the armor of that trio. And there’s Fabienne’s professional life.
No longer a lead actress, she now takes supporting roles, and she’s seen interacting with her work family, on a film set, and trying to deal not only with the absurd plot of a new science fiction film, but also with the new hot-shot actress Manon (Manon Clavel) who has the lead, and who everyone says is going to be the next Sarah.
A big chunk of “The Truth” looks in on the making of its film within a film, titled “Memories of My Mother,” in which the much older Fabienne plays the daughter of the much younger Manon (did I mention it was absurd?), and it’s in those scenes that much of what makes Fabienne tick when she’s off the set is explained.
Deneuve, who is rarely seen without a cigarette in her mouth or a look of scorn for others on her face, is terrific in the part, as is Binoche, who tries her best to cover up the disdain and disappointment she has for her mom. The scenes of these two together, in a back-and-forth battle of wits, are the film’s best. Although Hawke does well with what he has to work with, it feels that his character was underdeveloped on the page, and we don’t get a clear picture of what’s driving him.
But we do understand that Fabienne’s book is, for those around her, problematic. Her loyal manager Luc discovers that he’s not even mentioned in it. Her ex-husband Pierre (Roger Van Hool) stops by to congratulate her, and finds that he’s been “written off” as dead. And though she’s not in the book, the specter of Sarah never goes away.
Yet, with all of this emotional turmoil, and no solution in sight, the film takes an unexpected and very welcome turn. It gives us an unusually happy and satisfying ending.
“The Truth,” in French and English, with English subtitles, premieres on VOD and streaming services on July 3.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written and directed by Hirokaza Koreeda
With Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clementine Grenier