The story begins as Fabienne’s ex-pat family arrives at her sprawling house. Daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) is a Hollywood screenwriter. She’s married to Hank (Ethan Hawke), a vacantly charming TV star. Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) is their adorable, precocious little girl. Right from the get-go, Lumir has a bone to pick with her mother: Fabienne is about to publish her memoirs, and she hasn’t bothered to share an advance copy with her family.
Lumir reads the book on the first night and is instantly furious. She accuses Fabienne of glossing up her private life for public consumption. The book paints her as a doting mother, heavily invested in her daughter’s childhood. Lumir knows that this is not the case, and that Fabienne constantly chose work over being a parent. This memoir serves as an opportunity to spruce up her own legacy. It seems that Fabienne has also omitted any mention of Sarah, a fellow actress and close confidante who passed many years ago. Lumir enjoyed a motherly bond with Sarah, and fumes that she is nowhere in these pages.
Tempers get frayed even further by the movie Fabienne is currently shooting. She acts alongside Manon (Manon Clavel), a beautiful, talented young actress. The media loves to paint Manon as the next Sarah, which inflames Fabienne’s jealousy and insecurity. She drinks and drifts in and out of focus, causing her acting ability to suffer. Eventually, Fabienne’s prickly nature threatens to alienate everyone, including her loyal assistant (Alain Libolt). Lumir must reconcile her own complicated feelings toward her mother, all while keeping Fabienne’s storied career from running aground.
The Truth is a meditative drama, punctuated by bits of wry humor. Fabienne’s true feelings often come in the form of withering bon mots, sometimes with a smoldering cigarette clamped between her fingers. These moments are funny, but they also point to the pain buried beneath Fabienne’s pride: She loves her daughter and granddaughter. It’s just that she loves performing, adulation and being a star that much more.
Fabienne couldn’t have been more custom-made for Deneuve, and she runs away with it. The fabric of Fabienne feels like Meryl Streep with strands of Norma Desmond woven in: Her personality continues to loom large, even as the pictures around her get smaller. Binoche is more than a match as Lumir, whose brittle bitterness only reminds Fabienne of how much everything she’s done can’t cover up everything she never was. Only Ethan Hawke, one of the most natural dramatic actors around, gets wasted as Lumir’s freewheeling husband.
Surprisingly, The Truth springs from writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda, the incredible talent behind Shoplifters. This represents his first work outside Japan, and not in his native language. While this film can’t breathe the same rarefied air of his previous work, The Truth does make for an interesting companion piece. Shoplifters showed us a family of fractured people, brought together by the desperation to survive. This one explores people from a fractured family, who somehow feel rich and poor at the same time. The Truth may not have the punch for a great film, but it does end up being a very good one.
106 min. PG.