On paper, The Truth knocks it out of the park. Ethan Hawke, Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve team up with last year’s Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters director Hirokazu Kore-eda, the result a film selected to launch this year’s Venice Film Festival. Sounds mouth-wateringly promising, doesn’t it? Well the good news ends there.
A preposterously self-important and vain actor Fabienne (Deneuve) is on the verge of publishing her memoirs. While her career may have hit the top, it is soon clear that she fell short as a mother. Her book attempts to depict a different view, which means that her earnest daughter Lumir (Binoche) arrives at her old childhood home, along with good-natured hubbie Hank (Hawke), the daughter keen to correct her mother’s version of events.
Lumir purposively presses her mother on her relationship with her dead sister, Sarah, and chisels away at her icy exterior. It dawns on the audience, however, that this will be an exercise in futility. Fabienne is too cartoonishly drawn – shackled by rrested development, her relentless cruelty burning those around with next-to-no provocation. It’s all a little far-fetched and not helped by the splashes of tepid, caustic comedy intermittently sprinkled atop the serious stuff. Tonally, it’s a bit of a mess.
Kore-eda’s sights appear to be locked and loaded on some sort of confrontational crescendo. It never really arrives. The emotional slalom between mother and daughter fails to achieve any sense of acceleration, let alone hair-raising lift-off. And it is a bitter waste of Deneuve’s and Binoche’s shared screen time.
In Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 film Autumn Sonata, there was at least fleeting acknowledgement of parental failings, even if it made little overall difference to the relationship. There is no such trajectory here. Seasons change – but not a lot else does. Maybe that is the intention. After all, real life rarely offers something so prettily gift bow-tied as Scrooge’s Damascene conversion in A Christmas Carol.
In the wake of the Cannes triumph for his spellbinding Shoplifters, Kore-eda has plunged himself into new waters. This is the first film in his 30-year career away from his native Japanese tongue, but the result is like a shiny new car with a flat tire and no steering wheel.
It is a drama devoid of novelty or an abiding sense of purpose, despite corralling big-hitters in its starry cast. The Truth feels hastily constructed, paling next to other films that better explore the topics targeted, including those associated with memories and ageing. A coincidental example can even be found in something bearing Binoche’s imprint: Clouds of Sils Maria.
Up until now, Kore-eda has mastered the little things that make a drama tick. He has excelled on the details. Although there is no doubting his venerable pedigree, this is a frustratingly befuddled hodgepodge.