Assayas’ new film is talky in the very best sense, capturing themes of digitalisation and socialisation with effortless ease.
Dir. Olivier Assayas
2018 | France | Drama/Comedy | 108 mins | 1.85:1 | French
M18 (passed clean) for some language and sexuality/nudity
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne
Plot: Set in the Parisian publishing world, an editor and an author find themselves in over their heads, as they cope with a middle-age crisis, the changing industry and their wives.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice). Nom. for People’s Choice Award (Toronto)
International Sales: Playtime
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at the Singapore International Film Festival ’18)
I used to find it a bit hard to ‘get’ Olivier Assayas, but after seeing a number of his films over the last few years, including Something in the Air (2012), Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) and Personal Shopper (2016), and going back to watch Irma Vep (1996) and Clean (2004), I find him similar to his counterpart François Ozon, in that they don’t quite make very ‘canonical’ or ‘bold statement’ works in the context of the larger contemporary French cinema, but their outputs are interesting and varied on their own terms.
And it is this elusive quality, of myself trying to grasp, for instance, what makes a particular Assayas film what it is, and striving to achieve a level of appreciation if not understanding of it, but always coming a tad short every time that makes me eager to see his next work, and the one after next. I find this process quite seductive, if you will.
It is this context that I was excited to see Non-Fiction (also known as Double Lives), and I must say that this is one of the more straightforward works of Assayas. And I think that is a good thing because I’m finally seduced… by how effortlessly cool it is. From the get-go, we feel a sense of rhythm, mainly as a result of well-calibrated dialogue that oozes right out of the characters’ tongues.
The original title of the film was “E-Book”.
It is certainly scripted, but the words feel so spontaneous, refreshing… and smart too. If it were a person, I would describe Non-Fiction as a competitive runner engaging in a quick morning jog along a breezy beach just to, you know, flex the muscles before the ‘real thing’. This is an analogy that I would use to describe how Assayas has directed this film as well—no strains, no cramps, not breaking any sweat (or ground), just enjoying the process and material at hand.
Juliette Binoche headlines the film as the wife of a boss of a well-known publishing house, but there’s some fine work done by Guillaume Canet (the boss), and especially, Vincent Macaigne, who plays a controversial writer who has no qualms about exposing the private lives of his romantic flings. As a personality, however, he is socially-awkward and unconfrontational, which makes an intriguing watch.
But the star of the film is really Assayas’ script and its compelling delivery. The film is talky in the very best sense, but it says smart things about the world today, particularly on themes of digitalisation (in the publishing world specifically) and socialisation where the meanings of relationships and relational dynamics play a distinct role (and at the same time questioned) in how we see ourselves as social beings operating in a world of constant flux. Non-Fiction quite rightly hits the zeitgeist on the nail.