LFF 2018: Non-Fiction Review
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Midway through writing the script for his new film, Non-Fiction (called Doubles Vies/Double Lives in France), Olivier Assayas suddenly realised he was writing a comedy. He believed it was the only way he could make the themes stick and the intellectual musings we have become accustomed to over the years haven't been dampened by the humour. Rather, it allows the French director to create a witty relationship-based film filled with his thoughts about the internet and the publishing world’s cautious connection with everything digital.
Assayas has set his stories in a number of different industries in the past, including porn (Demonlover), film (Clouds of Sils Maria) and fashion (Personal Shopper). Non-Fiction sees him use the publishing sector as the platform to intersect five different lives and discuss the ongoing debate between digital and print. At the same time he is lightly ribbing the navel-gazing of the chattering classes and the insulated sense of self-entitlement they constantly overlook. You might also never be able to watch Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon again without a knowing smile being raised across your face.
We join novelist Léonard (Vincent Macaigne) in conversation with his long time publisher Alain (Guillaume Canet) about his new manuscript. There’s a strain around the edges of their discussion, and although not explicitly said during their lunchtime meal, Alain tells Léonard that he will not be publishing the novel when they return to the offices of his prestigious publishing house.
Léonard’s political advisor wife (Nora Hamzawi) doesn’t offer much solace but he finds it in Alain’s wife, Selena (Juliette Binoche), who he has been sleeping with for six years. Selena plays a crisis management expert on a hugely successful TV show called Collusion, a role she is thinking of quitting because it doesn’t fulfil her. She rightfully thinks Alain is cheating, although she doesn’t know it is with his Head of Digital Transformation, Laure (Christa Théret), who, by the way, is cheating on her girlfriend with him.
It may sound pretty confusing but all the deceit and double standards reveal themselves easily enough without becoming entangled. The challenging part is keeping up with the smart, funny, rapid fire dialogue that flows in and out of the relationship shenanigans. Over dinners, lunches, book signings, radio interviews and while lying half naked in bed the characters debate everything and anything. Are we reading and writing more or less, can Tweets, texts and emails serve as valid pieces of literature, does search engine optimism count for more than professional criticism, are e-books dead, will printed books ever really die - the list goes on.
What Assayas also seems to be commenting on is the way the internet has created an alternative ‘reality’ that allows people to distant themselves from their own actions. Lies are convincingly spouted by nearly all his characters without so much as a flinch (although you always have a sense Alain knows about Selina’s affair) and the opportunity to take up any position you want on the internet in contrast to your ‘real world’ life appears to have seduced almost everyone.
The problem a film like Non-Fiction faces is finding a way to naturally integrate such dense ideas into the confines of these human relationships, but Assayas clears that hurdle with relative ease. The fluidness of the conversations ensure they never feel as if they are being forced into the mouths of his characters. Visually the film doesn’t offer much but the emphasis is on using the dialogue to fire Assayas' thoughts into our spheres, in the process making us laugh and think at the same time – which is no mean feat by anyone’s standards.
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