Thursday 4 February 2021

Movie Review: The Truth (2019)

A family drama, The Truth explores a difficult relationship between a celebrity mother and her emotionally neglected daughter. While the characters are interesting, the story struggles for justification.

In France, Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) is a fading but still active movie star about to release an autobiographical book. Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) arrives for a visit, along with her American husband and struggling actor Hank (Ethan Hawke) and young daughter Charlotte. Self-centred and obsessed with her career, Fabienne never tried to be much of a mother. Her autobiography is filled with flagrant inaccuracies intended to varnish her image, infuriating Lumir.

The visiting family accompany Fabienne to the set of her latest movie, which happens to be about a complex mother-daughter bond starring current hot actress Manon (Manon Clavel). With her long-time butler abandoning her after getting fed-up with her ego, Fabienne has an opportunity to reconsider how she treats those closest to her.

With the talents of Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche occupying the two central roles, The Truth does not lack acting excellence. Both actresses shine, Deneuve finding the unapologetically icy diva within, and Binoche responding with a cry for a semblance of regret or humanity.

Writer and director Hirokazu Koreeda has less success with a relatively damp script. Tension between a career-driven mother and neglected daughter is not exactly new cinematic territory, and here peripheral distractions abound from Ethan Hawke's non-entity actor to Fabienne's butler, cook/lover and ex-husband all in a parade of ignored men. The dialogue lacks edge, and the narrative ambles instead of striving.

What is expected from career women, the trade-offs between professional and family happiness, and who gets to tell their own story are the touched upon themes. The chasm between Fabienne and Lumir is occupied by the spectral presence of the never-seen Sarah, Fabienne's friend and rival during her star-making years. Except that Sarah was also a caring human being and took on the role of Lumir's surrogate mother, offering Fabienne a clear shot at career glory but at a heavy personal price. Frustratingly, Sarah is repeatedly mentioned but never shown.

In the movie-within-a-movie, Fabienne's role as the daughter of a mother who placed her needs first offers rich terrain for reflection. The character of star actress Manon has found a way to stay young forever, the desire of every movie star, but can only see her daughter every seven years. Fabienne approaches Manon with a mixture of barely concealed envy and disdain, not enjoying the image in the mirror. The Truth may be influenced by perspective, but rarely lives up to the desired fantasy.

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