Hirokazu Kore-eda is Japan’s master of the middlebrow, and in that regard Shoplifters, the movie that cemented his international cred, is an outlier. Most of what has sustained his career in Japan is what can be safely called domestic potboilers—tales of family secrets that coast along on unchallenging ideas and solid craft. Kore-eda’s first non-Japanese film fits this pattern. It is a perfectly executed French middlebrow entertainment, though lighter on the sex than your average French middlebrow entertainment.
Kore-eda’s ordinary script is helped immensely by an extraordinary cast led by Catherine Deneuve as legendary actress Fabienne D’angeville, who has just published her memoir and is doing press with fawning, cowed reporters in her Paris mansion. The imperious Fabienne loves it. For the first time in many years, Fabienne’s daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche), comes to visit from New York with her American actor husband, Hank (Ethan Hawke), and their young bilingual daughter, Charlotte (Clementine Grenier). Lumir is nominally estranged from her mother, but makes the visit expressly to check the memoir to find whether it is, as the movie title tells us, “the truth.” Naturally, it isn’t, though most of what’s false about the book is what it leaves out, particularly Fabienne’s rivalry and relationship with another actress who was considered better but died young. Lumir, who called this woman her aunt, was essentially raised by her in the absence of her mother.
As with all of Kore-eda’s family secrets films, the truth in this case is malleable, and as much as Fabienne stretches and compacts certain events to fit her ideal narrative, Lumir has forgotten things herself—or, more essentially, misremembered them. Within this structure, Kore-eda provides some excellent jokes, such as screenwriter Lumir’s penchant for writing scenes for loved ones to play out in real life. But in the end, the movie’s mild melodrama doesn’t give us anything substantial to think about since the consequences of Fabienne’s subterfuge and Lumir’s resentments don’t really add up to much in the way of drama. Nevertheless, Binoche takes Kore-eda’s sketchy profile of Lumir and turns it into a tour de force of character revelation. At first you wonder what such an intelligent, insightful woman is doing with a mess like Hank—recovering alcoholic, eternal B actor—and Binoche shows you through the cracks in Lumir’s self-possession. Though the movie is mostly about Fabienne’s fear of aging, it says more about Lumir’s unsteady grip on her own identity, which is an obvious casualty of her mother’s neglect. And in that regard, the movie works well. Maybe a little sex might have given it the spark it needs.
In French and English. Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060).
La verite home page in Japanese.
photo (c) L. Champoussin/3B-Bunbuku-Mi Movies-FR3