Printed books for e-books, love and infidelity behind the shelves, it’s all pretty topical in this charming comedy of manners with Juliette Binoche – and indeed everyone – doing stardom tricks in the engaging Oliver Assayas drama.
Assayas directed Kirsten Stewart in Personal buyer (2016) while Binoche has worked very well with him before, as the lead actress in his impressive 2014 release, Clouds of Sils Maria.
In this one, whose title in French is Double lives, La Binoche plays the actress Selina. his partner is Alain Danielson (Guillaume Canet), and they have a son. Alain is a seemingly astute book publisher with his eyes on the digital future where he believes real business lies. Printed and bound books are on the way out, at least he thinks so, but it’s not as straightforward as he finds out halfway through the film. The discovery doesn’t have a huge melodramatic effect on his life, it’s not that kind of movie.
Rather, we’re talking subtlety and restraint in a clever, albeit rather quick, dialogue. It’s that kind of French film where people are supposed to show their essence through opinions expressed in a passionate way, improvisation-style discussion concerning books, internet, twitter etc. So it’s a bit like the work of the late great Eric Rohmer. The always witty and optimistic characters, all scarves and chic clothes, exist in a sealed Parisian bubble, some of them have not even heard of cities or regions outside the capital. They like to chat around tables full of flavor sofas and so on, talking about modern life in small bites.
One day, Alain meets one of its authors, Léonard Spiegel (Vincent Macaigne) for lunch in a brilliantly depicted youth scene. Friendship between the two men, but also tension as Leonardo leads the conversation on the only question that concerns him: will Alain publish his last manuscript after several novels? These have also been published by the firm, but its most recent work has only medium to medium success.
It’s a brilliant set-up with its own points of tension in the dialogue and its loose, pleasantly talkative bistro scene, customers huddled together around small tables. It starts with the casual way Denis throws his jacket over the top of the long press, to join the other coats there, an authentic touch of local color.
Believe me, if you were in Paris this is where you might want to go. There is not a tourist to see neither in this bistro nor elsewhere, not a French no to see throughout the film in fact. It is a rarefied greenhouse atmosphere, mainly coming from body heat.
Alain Selina’s wife, meanwhile, is halfway through the filming of the third series of a police show in French, entitled Connivance, she brandishes a weapon in a picket scene, a curious thing, indeed, to see Juliette Binoche do. Her character is however tired of the role of cop, she declined the fourth series and is uncomfortable with its notoriety.
Leonardo’s companion, Valérie, is somewhat amazed and tells him that she is addicted to Connivance, it relaxes her at night, she said. Selina replies with good humor but summarily: “I don’t want to relax you. She accepted the role of Phèdre in a production, a role offered to women of a certain age, she said.
Suffice to say that an affair begins between the main parties and while Leonardo’s predilection for auto-fiction turns out to be particularly delicate given his infidelity. Which makes Non-fiction the kind of moral comedy Rohmer would be unlikely to try. He is more interested in philosophy and the existential dilemmas at the heart of human situations. Assayas is interested in salacious fun, though he probably wouldn’t see it that way, insisting that there is so much more to this exquisite frivolity than it seems at first glance.
This is where the difference lies, so Assayas’ script is literary and more like Hannah and her sisters. Still, it’s brilliantly done, and book publishing – books printed for e-books, or cons, perishes thought, reading books on your smartphone, as one character hints at in bewilderment – turns out. a good seating area. There, the author’s brilliantly drawn characters can mock each other and bicker worryingly while doing silly things between the sheets.
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