If ever there was a cinematic auteur whose output over the last quarter-of-a-century has been slowly-but-steadily accumulating a worldwide collection of fans, it’s Hirokazu Kore-eda. Also, if ever there was a film-maker whose best work has set such a high bar that he now deserves to start taking it a bit easier, and not necessarily striving for another masterpiece, it’s certainly him.
Trouble is, the name Kore-eda carries with it a level of expectation that – particularly in light of his recent Palme d’Or win – is difficult to overcome when faced with a film like The Truth. A pleasant watch, for sure, but rather relentlessly wispy, and ultimately lacking in the kind of dramatic impact that might have made it memorable.
It’s not just a director’s reputation that this work carries with it; Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche are just about the two brightest and starriest French performers still active on-screen – and Ethan Hawke in support certainly ain’t chopped liver. When put together in this nice little family tale – dealing with cross-culture issues, generational legacies, the question of memory, the nature of reality, and the meaning of a professional life in show-business – the resulting film never exactly puts a foot wrong, but nor does it ever seem to really get going.
Fortunately, the wicked humour of Deneuve’s performance – helped by elements of self-referential wit in Kore-eda’s screenplay – is definitely delicious enough in itself to make The Truth worth a look. Playing an actress dealing with a family visit from daughter Binoche (who is accompanied by husband Hawke and their young bilingual daughter), while attempting to launch her autobiography and get through with shooting a sci-fi saga, Deneuve effortlessly commands the screen and makes one cherish that such a gift is still giving itself to world-cinema fans.
There is enough here of Kore-eda’s reliably gentle interpersonal dynamics – and some typically precise, contemplative visual framing – to make the director’s first feature set outside of Japan recognisable as the work of this talented artist. There are also some quite idiosyncratic moments of magic to be found, but not enough to make this anything close to first-rate. If, however, a nice time at the movies is what you seek, this should fit the bill adequately.
The Truth opens on Boxing Day.