The Truth 

This film is available to view online on Curzon Home Cinema…

 Of all the great European actresses, surely Catherine Deneuve is the one whose legend – and output – has never diminished. She is the grandest of grandes dames.

And she knows it, flaunting her own iconography and public image to the fullest in very enjoyable new French film The Truth. I say it’s a French film, but it’s actually directed by one of my favourite directors in world cinema, Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Shoplifters in 2018. Apparently, he doesn’t speak much French and maybe that shows in this quirky production, which is as much about language as it is about family, one of his favourite and recurring themes.

Deneuve plays a character – we will naturally assume – quite close to herself, a diva of a French actress called Fabienne Dangeville, who is still clinging ferociously to her career at the expense of practically everything else. The part brings the best out in Deneuve herself, now 75 but as impish and imperious as ever in a delicious performance that sizzles on the screen – still smoking, in every sense of the word.

Fabienne is about to publish her memoir, called The Truth, although of course we know it most likely be nowhere near the truth. And who would want it to be? We want Fabienne’s attitude and hauteur. We want her bitchiness. We want her dismissive shrug to the very mention of Brigitte Bardot.

Fabienne is also preparing for a new movie with a young cast and young director and into the frame steps her daughter Lumir, played by no one less than Juliette Binoche. Lumir lives in New York and is a reasonably successful screenwriter and married to a struggling yet ever-hopeful TV actor Hank, played by Ethan Hawke in a very likeable comic turn. They have a young daughter in tow (played by Clementine Grenier) meeting her famous Grandma for what seems like the first time.

The real drama, though, crackles between Deneuve and Binoche, Fabienne and Lumir, mother and daughter as they waft in and out of the rooms of the grand, slightly creaky old family home in the Paris suburbs. Mostly, Lumir ends up chasing her mother with a copy of the memoir in her hand, exasperated at the way Fabienne’s memory has deliberately distorted the truth. Of particular vexation appears to be the way the actress mentions how, despite a flourishing film career, she still managed to pick her daughter up from school every day.  “You never did it, even once!” protests Lumir. 

Because Binoche and Deneuve are so good, I’d have been quite happy to watch them argue all day.  “I’d prefer to be a bad mother but a great actress,” admits Fabienne, in one of many emotionally exasperating outbursts. You’re never quite sure if you can believe a word she says, let alone writes.

The film is a light, whimsical, comedy on the surface but it’s about lies and fiction both in real life and on screen. Deneuve’s Fabienne goes off to set on her new movie, a film ironically called Memories of my Mother, adding another layer of texture to this tissue of role-playing, of riffing on what might have been. There’s even a rather moving hint of Deneuve herself reflecting on the loss of her own sister, the radiant Francoise Dorleac, who died in a car crash near Nice in 1967 and with whom Catherine had just starred in one of my favourite musicals of all-time, The Young Girls of Rochefort.

Kore-eda appears to be saying we all play roles in families, sometimes typecast and impossible to get out of, and that we never have the same view of reality as another family member. Maybe Fabienne was a terrible Mum. Maybe Lumir, as a screenwriter, is looking for dramatic conflict wherever she can find it. Maybe Hank is a drunk Dad. But they can also be a lot of fun.

Don’t expect a big showdown of a climax, though. You might find the whimsical drift a soupçon frustrating, but then family tiffs are rarely resolved satisfactorily. I warmed to this film, to its elegant ironies and comic playfulness and its willingness to seek emotional truth if actual truth can’t be found amid the old rooms, soft cushions and leafy gardens. 

And I loved Catherine Deneuve like this, because you wouldn’t want her any other way.