Writer-director Olivier Assayas goes looking for one real thing amid a group of French sophisticates who deal in artifice, both as a way of making a living and (with one possible exception) as a way of life: the novelist practicing auto-fiction, the book publisher considering a post-book future, the actress playing not-quite-a-cop on a cop show, and a politician’s aide. Plus the various people they are dealing with, sexually and otherwise. His approach is a kind of via negativa: it ain’t here in art, nor here in politics, nor here in relationships (perhaps especially so), nor even here in the seemingly straightforward and reliable realm of commerce. It’s a civilization of liars, all quite sincerely insincere, casting their collective gimlet eye of a post-everything world and talking about what they see in reams of dizzying, dazzling talk. (It’s a very talky film; even the sex scenes exist mostly for the sake of pre- and post-coital conversation.) The overall aesthetic is all very handsome and detached, but gradually, genuine emotion starts to seep through the cracks in the façade — which just might be modern civilization itself, given the shift in both setting and situation that Assayas chooses for his conclusion. Not for nothing does one character cite Attila the Hun as a political model. (2018)
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