2019, R, 108 min. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Starring Vincent Macaigne, Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Christa Théret, Nora Hamzawi.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., May 24, 2019
"The role of the critic as trendsetter has weakened," a pronouncement lazily proclaimed by a character in this examination by Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, Personal Shopper) of the ever-changing world of art and commerce. The line is spoken by Laure (Théret) a digital media strategist recently hired by a century-old publishing house. The company is being thrust into the 21st century, a landscape where blog hits are more important than book sales, and print is dead (an idea that is not lost on the fact that you may be reading this in an actual newspaper).
But the plot, as it were, concerns Alain (Canet), the head of a prestigious publishing house having to begrudgingly come to terms with the fact that the masses engage with media on their tablets and smartphones (imagine that!). But there is also Léonard (Macaigne), a respected author whose new book Alain has decided to pass on publishing. Léonard’s novels tend to be what he calls “auto-fiction” (the film’s French title is Doubles Vies, which perhaps gets more to the point). As a novelist, he culls from his relationships to provide material for his work, which comes back to bite him, and provokes many conversations on what the role of the author is in this world.
Which is really what this film is about, in its determined, bourgeois way. It is a succession of conversations – and to be clear, this film is a perpetual stream of people debating contemporary issues in a particularly Gallic manner: how we engage with the world, how art is conceived, and how the internet has changed the way we engage with information.
There are so many issues that Assayas engages with, sometimes blithely and other times hammering home, perhaps to a fault, that it is often dizzying. But it is that very denseness of thought, and the lovely ways that these themes are examined, that make the film shine. And while Non-Fiction can be quaint in its examination of art versus commerce, it is never boring. Of course, that presupposes the viewer is ready for a deep dive into the realm of a particular brand of discussion about culture in which your mileage may vary. There are clever film references and a path down the meta that Assayas orchestrates brilliantly. “We choose what we read to validate ourselves,” which is the through line to a film that takes the pulse of the state of the contemporary union, and gently but effectively eviscerates it.