VOD review: Non-Fiction
Watching this cast chat9
Actual conversational insights7
Ivan Radford | On 22, Oct 2019
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Christa Théret, Nora Hamzawi
Watch Non-Fiction online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
Arriving just before his new political thriller, Wasp Network, and just after his Kristen Stewart-led horror riff, Personal Shopper, Non-Fiction finds writer-director Olivier Assayas back in the witty ensemble story mode of earlier career highlights Summer Hours (2008) and Late August, Early September (1998), but merged with the industry satire of Irma Vep (1996). There, it was the film industry skewered with affection; here, it’s the world of novels. Non-Fiction’s original French title, Double Vies, translates to ‘double lives’, and the inherent narcissism found in concealing one’s infidelities while also profiting from them is of particular interest to the director.
The film’s arguable lead is Alain (Guillaume Canet), who runs a prestigious publishing house that’s grappling with the perceived necessity to make a greater transfer from print to digital. This inspires many, many conversations, usually held at dinner parties, lavish homes or hotels, or in cafés, about the long list of pros and cons of various elements of the digital age: print books versus ebooks and audiobooks, traditional libraries versus something like Google Books, established critical voices versus upstart bloggers, social media ‘engagement’ versus staggered, considered opinion, and so on.
Alain is managing the publishing house’s prospects with a young head of digital transition, Laure (Christa Théret), with whom he is having an affair. Seemingly unbeknownst to Alain, his wife, Selena (Juliette Binoche), a TV actor of some fame, is also having an affair, sleeping with one of Alain’s regular authors, Léonard (Vincent Macaigne), for at least six years. There’s a suggestion that Léonard’s partner, Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), has some idea of an affair going on, even though she may not know the exact identity of the other cheating party; not least because of Léonard’s tendency to write what Alain describes as navel-gazing fiction that barely conceals any autobiographical truths.
Though Binoche is clearly having a ball, Hamzawi is the film’s secret weapon as Valérie, with a look and mannerisms vaguely reminiscent of Elaine May in her role as a left-wing political campaigner who does love Léonard but is absolutely unable to feign interest in his career tailspin. One of the film’s funniest moments comes when she speaks to him on the phone after he’s just had a humiliating radio interview, enthused that the interviewer actually asked hard-hitting questions, rather than considering how her lover might feel about his experience on the receiving end. Of course, Léonard did bring this on himself. A particularly gruelling question concerns the distasteful nature of a moment in his latest novel where a character receives oral sex during a screening of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, which replaced the actual truth of Selena having done this for him at a showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It becomes very clear that Léonard may not actually know anything about The White Ribbon beyond the idea it would be a more ‘high art’ film to play while receiving a blowjob.
Although a regularly earnest exploration of both relationships and the publishing discourse, Non-Fiction is overall more comedic than dramatic, although a less generous viewer might be inclined to describe it as a didactic treatise. Much of the film concerns discussions of the rise of digital publishing among the analogue milieu of the publishing world, but even if one is inclined to believe any specific characters’ views may represent those of Assayas himself, this is far from the cinematic equivalent of Abe Simpson yelling at a cloud – see, that’s a reference to a meme, which is, surprisingly, one of the few popular digital means of communication not brought up in the film’s script.
Non-Fiction is available in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.