Hirokazu Kore-Eda has crafted a deceptively complex story within a film that feels as airy as a soufflé.
Catherine Deneuve plays what, at first, seems to be herself, an ageing but much celebrated and adored actress, Fabienne. She has just published a memoir, The Truth, and when her New York-based daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) comes to visit her in Paris with TV actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) in tow, it becomes clear that the book is as fictitious as the many roles Fabienne has played.
What makes the story so absorbing is the intricate dance between mother and daughter. We are given insight into it in many small moments – the tortoise and Lumir’s father Pierre (Roger Van Hool), shared memories of rival actress Sarah and the analogous film that Fabienne is cast in, where mother and daughter roles are reversed.
For awhile I couldn’t get past Deneuve playing herself – it seemed too weighty and intrusive – but this becomes a thread of the narrative that poses the question of what is truth and what is the role we play for others. The dialogue often feels improvised, it is so real, particularly where Charlotte is involved. Hank is solid and provides a context where we see the choice between success in career and relationships.
Fabienne is an archetype, the successful artist who has had to sacrifice family and relationships to succeed. It feels, though, that her failings as a parent are perhaps more monstrous because of her gender. Lumir also had an absent father but he seems easier to forgive. What makes this interesting is the clarity that Fabienne doesn’t have a problem with her choices. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult but she seems free of regret. Her narcissism perhaps protects her from the pain of others.
By the end I felt I had seen something real that made me question my own choices and relationships.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.