To tell you the truth about The Truth, even though it stars Catherine Deneuve at her most Catherine Deneuve-ish (i.e. campily grand) and I was so looking forward it — it’s the first non-Japanese production from Hirokazu Kore-eda, who made the very lovely Shoplifters — it is now quite hard to concentrate on anything in films beyond the fact that they already feel like social history. My God, there was a time when people just went out and about willy-nilly? And they hugged and kissed and weren’t always washing their hands while singing ‘Happy Birthday’? So that gets in the way, as does having to watch films at home rather than on a big screen, now that cinemas have closed. But we will try our best — here to serve and what have you.
As ever, she is attended by her long-time manager, who makes tea that is never to her liking. (Not hot enough.) She is sly and points out that her manager looks like John Gielgud but ‘less distinguished’. They are disturbed by the arrival of guests at the door. (Visitors! Imagine!) ‘I’ll leave,’ volunteers the journalist. ‘It’s nothing,’ she says dismissively, ‘just my daughter and her little family.’ So we have her measure, we think. But although this is about a tricky mother-daughter relationship it’s no Maman Dearest. As with all Kore-eda’s work, there is empathy and compassion and subtlety and while Fabienne is a monster, you always understand there is a deep, deep loneliness there.
Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), who lives in New York, has arrived with her husband (Ethan Hawke), an actor currently starring in a second-rate TV series, and their young daughter. Lumir does not see much of the truth in The Truth. What is this about always picking me up from school? You never picked me up from school! Fabienne is deliciously unapologetic. Better a bit of neglect than a helicopter parent is her postition. There is sparring between the two — Lumir makes tea that is always too hot — and there’s that dinner-table scene when secrets and betrayals inevitably come tumbling out.
This is more generic than Kore-eda’s previous work, and also more self-conscious and meta. A legendary actress is playing a legendary actress. Fabienne is working on a sci-fi film where the mother never ages. But it is also dreamy and intriguing and there are some wonderfully touching moments as well as some wonderfully funny ones (such as Fabienne’s face, when Brigitte Bardot is mentioned.) It’s a meditation, I think, on performance and truth and whether they can ever be the same.
Deneuve is mesmerising, but I was also sometimes irritated, particularly by the wistful piano music that would never shut up. It is worth seeing but not, perhaps, as much as Kore-eda’s other films, which you would do well to search out online. If you have the time. (Joke.)