Memories can be a fickle thing; sometimes they’re sharp, sometimes a little fuzzy, and sometimes they are shaped by little things to seem entirely different from what they are. Coming off the back of major success at Cannes and the Melbourne International Film Festival with his 2018 film Shoplifters, legendary auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda has returned with The Truth (La Verité), a story about familial love and strain and the lies we tell ourselves when the facts are a little too much to bear.
Regal and larger-than-life, Fabienne (played beautifully by Catherine Deneuve) is an icon of French cinema. We first meet her in the middle of an interview, elegantly smoking a cigarette and giving off the air of someone who is under no illusions of her grandeur. She is, in so many ways, magnificent and deeply troubled – weaving whatever tale makes her seem most interesting at any given time.
Drawn home by the publication of Fabienne’s memoir, daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) is apprehensive about what awaits her in her childhood home. With her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their young daughter in tow, emotions immediately run charged with the awkward energy of a family that has been emotionally displaced for a long time. Lumir’s life in America is clearly a sore spot for Fabienne, who seems to be both disappointed and proud that her daughter’s life and career has not outshined her own.
As Lumir, who has held onto a lifetime of resentment towards her mother, works closely with Fabienne and begins opens up about her grievances, she gradually understands that her own version of the truth is not the only version. Fabienne, like all parents, told lies about life and death in place of truths that are too much for their children to take on. Further mirrored in the transition from autumn to winter, Hirokazu invites us to witness this gradual withering of Fabienne and Lumir’s relationship and its eventual evolution into something different and new.
Parallel to Lumir and Fabienne’s fractured relationship is the relationship between Lumir and Hank and, by extension, Hank and Fabienne. A struggling actor, a caring and affectionate father and husband, and a recovering alcoholic, Hank is consistently treated like a mildly unpleasant smell. Ignored or belittled by Fabienne for his failing career and usually berated by Lumir to trying to involve himself in her issues, Hank often gets caught in the middle of these assertive and powerful women. By taking on a rather meek role, Hawke allows Deneuve and Binoche to shine even brighter but the submissive nature of his character does not take away from his value and we can’t help but feel rather attached to him as he navigates the minefield that is two petty and emotional French women. In this way, Hank is the representative of the audience in Hirokazu’s narrative.
What Hirokazu has done with The Truth is nothing short of delightful. Completely honest and raw, The Truth unravels with the guidance of its central mother-daughter relationship. The banter and small moments of affection between Fabienne and Lumir is not just entertaining but incredibly natural between Binoche and Deneuve, and provides a steady progression for the story to unfold in a way that is very satisfying.
By breaking and rebuilding the relationship between mother and daughter, between husband and wife, Hirokazu reminds his audience that all truths, especially the ones we let ourselves believe, are shaped and subjected to external forces. Fabienne’s memoir, according to Lumir, is riddled with factual inaccuracies and lies. According to Fabienne, it’s the truth that her fans want to hear. This juxtaposition between values and opinions is not only approached with care by Hirozaku, but executed with heart by his leading ladies.
The Truth will see its general release in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day.