THE TRUTH – Review by Martha K Baker

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Truth to tell, this story might have been more promising on paper than it ended up on film. Certainly, the cast promises more than any of the stars deliver. The director, Hirokazu Koreeda, became known last year for his film Shoplifters. Those who thought that movie was overblown will not expect much from The Truth.

Again, the story has possibilities. Lumir writes screenplays. Her mother, Fabienne, is — was, really — an actress who always put her career before her daughter. Still, when Lumir comes home to celebrate the publication of her mother’s memoir, she is ready to applaud her mother.

Then, she reads it. The daughter in the words is not anyone the daughter in the family recognizes in her mirror. That daughter on the page is the one her self-centered, posturing mother conjured out of words and wishes. Of course, Lumir is furious, and of course, Fabienne is defensive and cowardly and unmaternal. How could she be but else?

The hard part is seeing Catherine Deneuve as Fabienne, all flounce and flow, her feet barely touching the ground of her fabulous estate. Deneuve would seem right for this part by her age and expertise, but she barely manages to tease out the part as written by Koreeda and Ken Liu, based on the latter’s short story.

The same challenge goes for Juliette Binoche as Lumir. That character pulls all the sympathy in the plot, but Binoche cannot wring much out of the dialogue, fierce as it can be. The third party to these scenes is Lumir’s husband, Hank, a third-rate actor played by the first-rate Ethan Hawke. Hawke stays in his place as a third wheel, but it’s painful to witness: We long for Hank to rise out of the morass of mother/daughter calumny — not to fix things, not to take over, but to be our eyes, perhaps, our witness.

The weak writing, fumbling directing, and scene-chewing acting devolve into soap opera in the end, so it’s not one bit of fun to witness this family drama even in the hands of this cast. The Truth is stressful without the resolution of setting an example. In French and English, with subtitles. It is playing currently on IFC.

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Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.