The Truth: Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche go digging.
For decades, Fabienne Dangeville has been the face of French culture (and haute couture). Considered by many to be one of history’s most celebrated beauties (and Europe’s greatest actress), the icy blonde was set to star in a Hitchcock film until the Master up and died on her. Today, the occasional model and two-time recipient of the César Award is on the promotion trail, stumping a tell-little autobiography. She has also been presented with a bit of a comedown: a supporting part in a low budget sci-fi epic, playing, fittingly enough, the daughter of a woman incapable of aging. The Truth be told, there is no better actress better suited to play Fabienne than Catherine Deneuve.
To celebrate the book’s publication, Fabienne has invited her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) — a successful screenwriter in her own right — son-in-law/“internet actor” Hank (Ethan Hawke), and young granddaughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to her chateau in France. It’s telling that this is the first time Fabienne has seen Lumir since she and her American husband tied the knot stateside. The copy of the memoir she claims to have sent Lumir might have been lost in transit, but it’s more likely that it never shipped. Fabienne doesn’t want her daughter reading the glossy account, and rightfully so. When her child accuses her of fact-fudging, all the author can say is, “My memories, my book.”
It’s not only her immediate family that Fabienne snubs; nor is hers the only life driven by vanity. (Given the choice between being a bad mother and friend or a great actress, Fabienne circled “all of the above.”) Her current director professes to be an ardent admirer of the her illustrious body of work, but after one look at the fledgling filmmaker’s previous work, all Fabienne can ask is, “Does he ever use a tripod?” As for the Boudu-ish creature making his entrance through the back door, that’s Lumir’s father Pierre (Roger Van Hool). At least his name appears in the book, even if he’s listed as dead. That’s more than can be said for her long-time personal assistant (Alain Libolt). And it’s one thing not to know the name of your grandchild, but to wholly exclude him from the memoir is cause for resignation.
The film’s one blind spot is Hank. Initially targeted as the butt of Fabienne’s scorn — “Anyone can be an actor,” she grumbles before muttering something about her son-in-law’s lack of screen presence — she later plies the recovering alcoholic with booze, knowing full well what it will do to his marriage and career. It’s only after he falls off the wagon that mother-in-law dearest welcomes him to the family with a kiss on his cheek. Fabienne may not realize that the joke is on her: Lumir’s main motivation for bringing Hank and Charlotte along for the ride was to make mom jealous of their happy family.
How many times can one say that Catherine Deneuve gives her greatest performance? Clearly not often enough, as she once again tops herself. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda allows just enough room for Fabienne to indulge her flights of hypocrisy: over dinner, she complains of a former rival ruining her voice with booze and smoking. One cut later finds her in the drawing room, a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other. On set, she insists that Lumir not refer to her as “mother.” Personal feelings for her daughter can only be defined in terms of her art. Hers truly is an imitation of life.
At any moment, this could have veered off the rails in the direction of Hollywood’s golden age of melodrama, with dialogue so ripe you could pick it. But those familiar with Kore-eda’s previous films (After Life, Our Little Sister, Shoplifters) can expect the same caring approach to humanism we’ve grown accustomed to, even though the canvas has broadened. (We never do learn what Fabienne wants to hear God say at the Pearly Gates, or see how the retake in question turned out.) It’s his first film set outside Japan, and his first to feature an all-star international cast, but don’t let it throw you. The director didn’t. ★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — Or: Lars (Will Ferrell) and the real actress (Rachel McAdams). We open in 1974 with an Icelandic nod to The Jazz Singer: only over Erick Erickssong’s (Pierce Brosnan) dead body will his son Lars be allowed to appear on the world’s largest televised singing competition. From that seed grows a typically dim-witted, featherlight comedy in which Ferrell adopts just enough of a scarecrow goggle to assure audiences that it’s not just the costumes and wig doing the acting. What can be said of director David Dobkin (The Wedding Crashers) other than that he allows his star ample room for indulgence while displaying an uncanny inability to properly time a rimshot cutaway. With two Mamma Mia! films and this to his credit, Brosnan should forever be barred from appearing in any musicals with a Nordic connection. If you are a Ferrell fan, God bless you. I don’t get it. What I do get are the raves McAdams is drawing for her infectiously winsome performance. 2020 —S.M. ★
John Lewis: Good Trouble — “My biggest fear,” says 17-term U.S. Representative and civil rights warrior John Lewis, “is one day we may wake up and our democracy is gone.” Dawn Porter’s biodoc stands as a sad reminder that, 65 years after its inception, America is still fighting to finish the Civil Rights movement. (The title refers to the kind of difficulty one gets in through non-violent protest.) A description of Charlie Kane leaps to mind when watching Lewis’ lifetime of accomplishments: “All of these years he covered, many of these years he was.” 2020. —S.M. ★★★
The Outpost — An Afghanistan valley steeped in insurgency is the eponymous setting for this gallant portrait of a group of U.S. soldiers fighting in the face of certain defeat. Why the Kamdesh base came to be known as “Camp Custer” will soon become all too apparent. Scott Eastwood stars in this adaptation of Jake Tapper’s exhaustively researched book, and not unlike Papa Clint’s Tightrope, when viewed at home, several of the inkier nocturnal sequences may require the use of night vision goggles. (In a note to critics, director Rod Lurie asks that viewers “try and replicate the theater experience as much as possible...as there are a few night scenes that may get lost otherwise.”) Names printed on screen introduce each character, no matter the size of their role. Undoubtedly a fine way to honor the heroes, but mighty damn confusing for an audience, particularly when it’s so dark one can barely discern facial features. Unquestionably grim, but an exquisitely executed long take on a suspension bridge held more thrills than anything in the gimmicky 1917. Just make sure the lights are low and the brightness level cranked. With Caleb Landry Jones surpassing all past performances as a real-life hero Ty Michael Carter, a specialist in saving lives. 2020. —S.M. ★★★