Non-Fiction

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Non Fiction
"In Assayas's smashingly sad comedy of manners, shoes drop left and right." | Photo: Courtesy of New York Film Festival

Olivier Assayas in his bursting-at-the seams, state-of-the-dying-art Non-Fiction (Doubles vies), shot by Yorick Le Saux (Carlos, Clouds Of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper, and Claire Denis' High Life, also in the Main Slate of the 56th New York Film Festival) submerges us right from the very start into an endless barrage of talk. Talk about the publishing world - fewer readers, more books, a repetition of the Ancien Régime, the Frenchness of Twitter? And so on.

Our heads are already filled with opinions before editor Alain (Guillaume Canet) and his rather Knausgaardian author of auto-fiction Léonard (Vincent Macaigne of Louis Garrel's Two Friends) even begin ordering their lunch. There is almost as much well-chosen hospitality concerning food and drink, as there is conversation in this film.

Copy picture

Neither seems to mean very much to the people, nor do the people to the people. It is as if what was subtracted in the interactions of Personal Shopper- to highlight the bitter loneliness of Kristen Stewart's character and give a bit of breathing room to Hilma af Klint (the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York will present the first major solo exhibition in the US starting on October 12) and her blithe spirits - has been added in Non-Fiction, that features a lot of get-togethers and affairs which makes the isolation of the individuals in a crowd even more poignant.

Juliette Binoche plays Selena, Alain's actress wife, competent equally in performing classics on stage as on a successful TV crime series, where she sports an ugly red wig and hedges revenge fantasies. Léonard's significant other Valérie (Nora Hamzawi) is a campaigning politician's right-hand woman and she has a singular handle on the whiny author who is capable of only using his own life in his books. A running gag involves a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens fictionalised as Michael Haneke's White Ribbon in Léonard's latest novel.

Pascal Greggory as Marc-Antoine, owner of the old publishing house Alain works for, during a stroll around the gardens of his country house, clad in Barbour jacket and Wellies, informs his editor that he might be selling the company - and him with it. What you hear and what you see are two very different things. Remember the scene in Hitchcock's Marnie, where a cleaning lady is bound to discover the stealing protagonist, only for us to find out that she is deaf?

In Assayas's smashingly sad comedy of manners, shoes drop left and right. The good life of the educated, culturally aware, carefully and statement-makingly dressed people (costumes by longtime Assayas collaborator Jürgen Doering, who also did Maria Schrader's Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe) with all the talk and snacks and friends and beach houses, is ultimately just as empty and filled with self-hatred as a tweet can be.

The juxtapositions are so constructed that they catch us unawares. A child enters the picture out of nowhere. "I thought you understood" becomes a cut-throat reply. An episode in the provinces involving Laure (Christa Théret), the newly hired specialist overseeing the publishing house's digital transition, comes across as, simultaneously, the 2018 update of François Truffaut's La Peau Douce (although Laure has never seen an Ingmar Bergman film and might not know this one either) and the iciest of adulteries.

I wondered what the experience would be like to see Non-Fiction without sound. We wouldn't hear that audio books are really selling well, especially those read by stars, and that adult colouring books are stepping up as a trend. But we would see how well these marvellous actors hold up a mirror to complacent misery.

The ending is not exactly Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, maybe closer to the flashbacks to the boy in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, but frightening nevertheless.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2018
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A drama about the hopelessly intertwined world of publishing.


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