Printed books versus e-books, love and infidelity behind the bookshelves, it's all rather topical in this charming, restrained comedy of manners featuring Juliette Binoche - and indeed everybody else - doing star turns in Oliver Assayas's engaging drama.
Assayas directed Kirsten Stewart in Personal Shopper (2016) while Binoche has worked very well with him before, as lead actress in his impressive 2014 release, Clouds of Sils Maria.
In this one, whose title in French is Doubles Vies, La Binoche plays the actress Selina. her partner is Alain Danielson (Guillaume Canet), and they have one son. Alain is a seemingly canny book publisher with his eyes trained on the digital future where he believes the real business lies. Printed, bound books are on the way out, or so he thinks, but it's not so simple as he discovers mid-way through the film. The discovery does not have any huge melodramatic effect on his life, it's not that kind of film.
We are, rather talking subtlety and restraint in smart, if rather speedy dialogue. It's that kind of French film where people are supposed to show their essence through opinions voiced in heated, improv-style discussion concerning books, the internet, twitter etc. So it is a little like the work of the late, great Eric Rohmer. The perpetually witty, upbeat characters, all scarves and chic clothes, exist in a sealed Parisian bubble, some of them haven't even heard of towns or regions outside the capital. They like to talk around tables replete with tasty-looking canapés and so on, sounding off about modern life in bite-sized mouthfuls.
One day Alain meets one of his authors, Léonard Spiegel (Vincent Macaigne) for lunch in a brilliantly-depicted early scene. There’s friendship between the two men, but tension too as Léonard leads the conversation to the only question that concerns him - will Alain publish his latest manuscript following on from a number of novels? These too were published by the firm, but his most recent work is enjoying only fair-to-middling success.
It’s a brilliant set-up with its own points of tension in the dialogue and its loose, pleasantly loquacious bistro scene, the patrons tightly packed together at small tables. It begins with the casual manner in which Denis throws his jacket on to the top of the long press, to join the other coats lying there, an authentic touch of local colour.
Believe me, if you were in Paris, this is where you might want to go. There is not one tourist to be seen either in that bistro or anywhere else, not one non-French person to be seen throughout the entire film in fact. It's a rarified, hot-house atmosphere, deriving from body heat mostly.
Alain's wife Selina, meanwhile, is midway through shooting the third series of a French language cop show, called Collusion, she wields a gun in a stake-out scene, a curious thing, indeed, to see Juliette Binoche do. Her character, is, however, weary of the cop role, she has declined the fourth series and is uneasy with her notoriety.
Leonard's partner Valérie is somewhat awestruck, and tells her she is addicted to Collusion, it relaxes her in the evenings, she says. Selina good-naturedly but summarily counters: "I don’t want to relax you." She has accepted the role of Phaedra in a stage production, a role offered to women of a certain age, she says.
Suffice to say that a affairs begin between the main parties and while Leonard's predilection for auto-fiction proves particularly tricky given his infidelity. Which makes Non-Fiction the type of comedy of manners that Rohmer would be unlikely to essay. He was more interested in philosophy and the existential dilemmas at the heart of human situations. Assayas is interested in salacious fun, though no doubt he wouldn't see it that way, insisting that there is much more to this exquisite frivolity than may at first be apparent.
Therein lies the difference, then, Assayas's screenplay is bookish-lite and more like Hannah and her Sisters. Yet it is brilliantly done, and book-publishing - printed books versus e books, or versus, perish the thought, reading books on your smartphone, as one character alludes to bemusedly - proves a fine seating area. Therein, the auteur's brilliantly-drawn characters can mock each other jocularly and bicker uneasily while getting up to mischief between the sheets.
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