Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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June 2020

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Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche are spectacular in The Truth

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Conflict, especially of the family variety, has a tendency to produce widely different interpretations of the events in question. The Truth (original French title: La Vérité) centers its narrative around a mother-daughter relationship, one that never tries to play its drama down the middle. Truth is more complicated than mere matters of right and wrong.

Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) is an accomplished French actress in the twilight of her career. Her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) comes to visit from America for the launch of her mother’s memoirs, filled with the kinds of fiction that Fabienne made a career of depicting on screen. Lumir is filled with grievances toward her mother, exacerbated by the stalled acting career of her husband Hank (Ethan Hawke).

Rarely interested in revisiting the past with her daughter, Fabienne instead concerns herself with feelings of resentment toward Manon (Manon Clavel), her much younger costar in her latest film. Manon reminds Fabienne of herself and her stardom, now fading, bringing a sense of introspection that those with big egos tend not to enjoy. Manon is less of a rival than an all-too-obvious indicator of the fleeting power of age.

Deneuve is in peak form, portraying Fabienne with an overwhelming sense of gravitas perfect for the narrative. The Truth is the rare film about fame that works. Deneuve isn’t just playing a superstar, she is one, honing in on the pains of time in a heartbreakingly authentic fashion. Fabienne is an awful person, yet the audience can feel for a woman who’s obviously struggling to grapple with the consequences of her life’s decisions.

Binoche brings plenty of nuance to Lumir, perfectly illustrating the complicated relationships that many children feel toward their parents. She gives deference to Fabienne without rewriting history, revisting old scars not to reopen old wounds, but to try and heal. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda clearly recognizes the assets he has in his two female leads, crafting scenes that let them duke it out in minimalistic settings.

Kore-eda relishes the messy emotions that families can bring out of each other. The sad moments in The Truth are often buoyed by humor, a fantastic script. At times, it feels like watching a stageplay and at others like you’ve walked in on a family feud.

Kore-eda has a gift for presenting conflicting perspectives while recognizing the almost-irrelevant nature of conclusions. Human relationships are not finite entities. Closure is a concept often deceptively deployed in film, for endings hardly exist in quite the same manner in reality.

The film juggles its many subplots pretty well. As Hank, Hawke isn’t given much to do, a role that isn’t quite reflective of his starpower, but fitting for a narrative that focuses the bulk of its attention on its mother-daughter dynamic. More Hawke would probably not be too helpful for the story at hand.

The Truth is a powerful narrative reflective of the talent involved. Kore-eda is one of the best directors currently working. Deneuve and Binoche both put forth two of the best performances of their storied careers. Fans of cinema will certainly want to check this one out.

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Tuesday

21

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Jumbo

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

For years, the discussion around gay marriage included plenty of preposterous claims such as allowing gay people to wed would lead to individuals wanting to marry their pets or their cars. Similar outlandishness follows the fight for transgender rights, as “jokes” about people wanting to identify as attack helicopters or penguins are made on a daily basis even to this day. In her debut feature Jumbo, Belgian director Zoé Wittock pursues a similar line of thinking in a surrealistic take on the meaning of love.

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) is a creative young woman who’s happiest in her thoughts. She works the graveyard shift at a local amusement park and builds elaborate models in her free time. Her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), a bartender, is troubled by Jeanne’s lack of drive, particularly with regard to her romantic life. Margarette herself enjoys a healthy sex life, especially with a new partner Hubert (Sam Louwyck).

A new attraction at the park catches Jeanne’s interest, much to the chagrin of her boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon), who pursues her romantically. Unfortunately for Marc, Jeanne’s heart belongs to a Tilt-A-Whirl ride, with its bright lights and mechanical spinning prowess. Dubbed “Jumbo” by Jeanne, she pays special attention to the ride during her shifts, making sure his lights are in tip-top shape.

Jumbo is the kind of film that works best when it skirts the lines of reality. Wittiock includes many beautiful sequences where Jeanne quite literally loses herself in the grandeur of Jumbo. The cinematography is spectacular, using light and color to convey meaning in the absence of words. Wittock appeals to all the senses in her efforts to convey a very peculiar kind of love.

Merlant is spectacular as Jeanne, capturing the essences of emotions foreign to many. She fully sells Jeanne’s emotion, as absolutely ridiculous as that sounds. Her performance sets the terms for the audience’s engagement with the narrative, presenting Jeanne not as someone who should be pitied, but rather appreciated for the way she holds her ground in the face of relentless opposition.

The supporting cast is also superb. Louwyck in particular stands out as Hubert, taking what could easily have been a throwaway role and transforming the character into someone with remarkable depth. As Margarette, Bercot puts forth an authentic portrayal of what any mother might struggle with in such a position, with happiness and reality existing in stark contrast to each other.

Perhaps the only point of critique for Jumbo is the absence of a broader sense of rationale behind Jeanne’s behavior. For a film with such an intimate scope, it’s understandable that there wasn’t much backstory, but there’s a lot of questions that the audience is left with by the end of the narrative. Film cannot present a complete portrait of a person’s life, but there’s so much to Jeanne lingering beneath the surface that supplies much food for thought afterward.

Jumbo takes an absurd premise and fully commits to presenting a heartfelt story. It’s easy to laugh at the idea of a person falling in love with a machine. Rather than make a mockery of the subject, Wittock finds beauty in the unexplainable.

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