TIFF ‘19: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘The Truth’ is Well-Acted But Emotionally Light

In 2018, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda devastated audiences with his film, Shoplifters, a story about found family and the bonds that hold them together. Kore-eda, in general, is known for his emotional films that feel like punches to the gut. His latest film, however, delivers less emotional impact. The Truth is his first English language film and while it is well-acted, it is less accessible than his previous work.

Famous actress Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) has just realized her memoirs detailing her life as a performer and a mother. Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) arrives in France from the U.S. with her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to celebrate the book’s release and finally get a chance to read it. Upon opening the book, Lumir finds it riddled with lies and half-truths. They bicker and argue about it over a period of weeks while Fabienne shoots her latest film, a sci-fi feature starring a budding young actress.

As Fabienne fights with her daughter, she is also trying to stave off feelings of inadequacy as she works with a younger, talented actress. She realizes that she is getting older and the film industry is changing, but she refuses to accept that. Her frustration manifests as cruelty which further isolates those who care for her. 

Like Kore-eda’s previous work, The Truth is all about family and what that can mean for different people. However, in The Truth, family is more of an inconvenience than anything else. It is a source of anxiety and strife as Lumir tries to navigate her mother’s attitude and her husband’s struggles with alcohol. Perhaps a film focusing solely on her experience would have had that emotional impact, as it is difficult to empathize with her mother. While Fabienne does undergo a slight transformation and realization about her relationship with her daughter, she ultimately remains rather selfish and unfeeling.

While the story feels more emotionally distant than Shoplifters, it is supported by strong performances by Binoche and Deneuve who feel like an authentic mother-daughter duo. Deneuve is cat-like, cool and aloof, never betraying her true emotions, while Binoche is explosive and expressive. She wants her mother to feel something, but she is ultimately met with a cold wall of stoicism. They also portray the difficulty in staying mad at your parent or child, sharing brief moments of tenderness that are quickly ended by Fabienne’s self-centered attitude. 

Supporting these two powerhouse performances are Hawke as the clueless Hank and Grenier as the charming Charlotte. Hank doesn’t speak French, so he spends much of the film listening to rapid conversations between Lumir and Fabienne while looking very confused. He is a lost puppy dog who wants to help but doesn’t know how. In contrast is the lovely Charlotte, a young girl wise beyond her years who flits through her grandmother’s house, exploring its nooks and crannies, and beholding it with a sense of wonder. Kore-eda is good at casting children and The Truth isn’t any different. 

The Truth features phenomenal performances from Binoche and Deneuve, but never delivers a strong emotional impact. It often feels like a mother and daughter bickering and no real solution is ever reached. Go in with the expectation of a much lighter Kore-eda film and you’ll enjoy yourself. The Truth is a light family drama that reflects on an actor’s past and her inability to really see anyone but herself. 

You may check out the rest of our TIFF ’19 coverage here.

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