We can tell, in an instant, that “The Truth” is going to be a lot less consequential than writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s previous film, the Oscar-nominated “Shoplifters.”
That had crime and mystery and side of Japanese life that few filmmakers there show, but which Koreeda has brought to the world at large through such films as “Our Little Sister” and “After the Storm.”
“The Truth” about movie stars, who have been known to bend it, distort it and sacrifice it for their craft, their fame and their egos.
But the star in question here is played by Catherine Deneuve, the serene and regal queen of her generation of French actresses. And as she makes her latest film, does interviews about the release of her memoir (titled “The Truth”), squeezing in time for the visiting family of the daughter (Juliette Binoche) she has never made time for, she is forced to consider her choices.
And at one moment, she pulls out “the dress.” It’s supposed to be from a key moment in her character, screen legend Fabienne Dangeville’s past. But any film fan will recognize it in an instant. It’s the dress from the role that made Deneuve an international star, 1968’s “Belle de Jour.”
Koreeda, and Deneuve, have made a movie inviting us to see what it takes to get there, the narcissism and selfish choices, the cutthroat cruelty, a focus so intense and so internal that one cannot help but see it as self-absorbed callousness.
Daughter Lumir (Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, queen of the generation of French actresses after Deneuve) is a New York screenwriter who shows up with her actor-husband (Ethan Hawke) and little girl (Clémentine Grenier) in tow.
A reckoning is coming. We can feel it. Don’t ask Lumir to go fetch wine. “I hate the cellar,” she tells little Charlotte. “Grandma used to lock me in it.”
She reads to the child from her favorite book from her own childhood, about witches.
“Is grandma a witch?” Charlotte wants to know. “Yes, some people used to call her that.”
That becomes a running gag in the movie, one the pleasantly-disdainful “Fabi” embraces for her granddaughter.
But the only real explosion is over the book, of which Lumir complains (in English and in French, with English subtitles), “I can’t find ANY truth in it!”
Fabi has written out her agent/manager (Alain Libolt) entirely. He politely announces to her his sudden decision to retire, mid-movie, mid-book PR tour. He will spend time with his grandkids.
“You have grandchildren?” “Yes. You’ve met them.”
She has misrepresented her relationship with her daughter. And she has played down the fellow actress who was more of a mother to Lumir than Fabi ever was, a woman whose career Fabi “stole,” a woman whom the star (Manon Clavel) of this sci-fi time travel drama Fabi is filming resembles and is earning comparison to.
When Fabi pulls out that “Belle de Jour” dress, maybe she’s considering everything her daughter and others are hissing at her, even if she just rolls her eyes or shrugs it off as they do.
Deneuve has a showcase here that allows her to play off her iconic status — her face was used as the new model of “Marianne,” the national personification of France (Think Uncle Sam) in the ’80s — and her career.
The people around Fabi talk about the great French actresses who were her contemporaries. Watch the semi-eyeroll Deneuve’s Fabi uses to dismiss any mention of Brigitte Bardot.
Giggle at the way she looks down on Hank, Lumir’s self-described “second rate TV actor,” how she fills his wine glass when he’s said he no longer drinks.
She isn’t quite rude, but “dismissive” enters into every exchange. She uses the word “crap” to jokingly describe footage and scenes she isn’t in. A man within earshot lightly protests.
“Oh, you’re the director?”
Yes. Yes he is.
Watch the way she side-eyes Manon, the star of the film, as she pulls camera attention, upstages and IMITATES elderly Fabi in her performance. Others don’t see the affront. Fabi does.
It’s a glorious star turn, certainly good enough to get Deneuve considered for the Oscar Binoche has but she does not. Fabi, we know, would hold an epic grudge over that.
Binoche has to carry the film’s emotional baggage, a daughter trapped (while she is in France) in orbit around “the star.” Hawke’s laid-back charm is put to great use, especially in scenes with children. We can see what Lumir saw in him.
No, there’s little in the way of fireworks and it’s not “stop the presses” news that film actresses have to be fiercely self-absorbed. But a film-lover’s movie like “The Truth” gets at the vulnerability that comes with that in cute but cutting, sly and subtle ways. Thank Deneuve for that.
“I could play this role dead drunk!”
Damn right she could.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic and suggestive elements, and for smoking and brief language
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Manon Clavel, Alain Libolt, Ludivine Sagnier, Roger Van Hool and Roger Van Hool.
Credits: Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:46