The Truth (PG)
This delicate, relatable family drama with a mother-daughter relationship at its core is set in the warm tones of a Paris autumn, as a New York-based screenwriter flies in for a visit. Her mother, a screen actress, is having her memoir published.
With husband and daughter in tow, Lumir (Juliette Binoche) arrives at her childhood home. Not far from the metro but a world unto itself, set among lawns and trees, it holds an abundance of memories for her. It looks like a castle her daughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier) observes. There's a prison behind it, mum rejoinders.
Within the old family home, her imperious mother Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) awaits them. She is a vision of establishment glamour, with perfectly proportioned features, discreetly made-up and coiffured mane of blonde hair. Her daughter looks drawn, wears hardly a skerrick of makeup, and the hair needs attention.
It's not just a contrast between lifestyles either. Fabienne is also a working woman, currently in the role of a daughter with a time-travelling mother in a faintly absurdist science fiction film Memories of My Mother.
So far, so clear. Things get going when Lumir protests to her that there are lies in the memoir about watching her daughter in school plays and meeting her at the school gate. Fabienne's riposte? As an actress, she will never tell the naked truth. And isn't a little neglect better than interference in Lumir's private life?
The memoir also says that Lumir's father, Pierre, is dead. Perhaps it's all a manner of speaking, as the giant tortoise that lives in the shrubbery goes by the name of Pierre. The man himself (Roger Van Hool) comes knocking at the French doors sometime later, looking mischievous and very much alive.
Fabienne can't recall which other actors of her generation - let's call them rivals - are still alive either. At least, it may not be intentional but a cultivated absent-mindedness. For Fabienne, Pierre no longer exists - she now has a partner in her bed and a male assistant, Luc (Alain Libolt). The beleaguered man resigns dramatically, then returns to his duties during the course of things.
Writer, editor and director Hirokazu Kore-eda has instilled a strong undercurrent of humour in this gentle, witty study of a family dominated by two strong women.
This is not the first time, and surely not the last, that Deneuve will be cast as the estranged mother we have seen her as in Claire Darling, in The Midwife, and in On My Way. While The Truth plays with perspectives on the critical parent-child relationship, it is also about ageing actresses, their rivals and those set to inherit their legacy who wait in the wings. But that's a secondary theme.
The men in the story, especially self-described second-rate TV actor Hank (Ethan Hawke), help with rapprochement, and makes for some amusing interchanges over the dinner table. Maybe all, like Hank, have a bit of a crush on Fabienne. Even the director who likes those shots of the whorl of hair in a bun above the nape of her neck - a reference to Vertigo?
It is a wonder that Kore-eda has brought two major French actors, Binoche and Deneuve, together like this for the first time. It was entirely his idea, and a wild one at that, as far as his French crew were concerned. It's also a wonder that the filmmaker, who speaks neither French nor English, directed through a translator. You could never guess.
Over the course of the film the two sparring partners, Lumir and Fabienne, grow closer. When they finally hug, it is genuinely touching. They even share confidences about their male partner's love-making, how it might compare to their cooking. By the end, the family seems like a unit, just like the band of thieves in Shoplifters, that won Kore-ada the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year.
The Truth is another warm and witty insight into the modern family from Hirokazu Kore-ada, at the same time a departure and a challenge to his Japanese cultural sensibility. It's intriguing that it is about characters who speak up rather than remain silent as they might be inclined to do in his home country. In this sense, it actually needed the characters to be French, with a Japanese sensibility brought to bear.