by Hope Madden
Nothing ever changes. That appears to be the sentiment behind Olivier Assayas’s chamber dramedy Non-Fiction, a tale set in the middle of the dying publishing industry, a relic that either needs to embrace digital disruption or die trying.
Or does it?
Hard to say, although a lot is being said. This is perhaps Assayas’s talkiest and most Parisian film to date. And yet, it’s breezy and honest. It’s also cagey and cynical.
What Non-Fiction is depends on your mood, perhaps, because every scene unfolds in about thirty ways. Jubilant performances buoy whip-smart writing that skewers the very platitudes it seems to be promoting.
Novelist and lazy anarchist Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) prefers to ever-so-slightly tweak his own daily life and liaisons than create characters and plots. Unfortunately, the audience at large – and his friend and editor Alain (Guillaume Canet – incredible) in particular – have grown weary. Is it even fiction? And do the women so thinly veiled in the works have any right to their own stories?
Does it even matter? Audio books and eReaders are the hot tickets now, or so says Laure (Christa Théret), sent to the publisher to drum up excitement for a digital transformation.
Well, Alain’s wife Selena (Juliette Binoche, also spectacular) prefers real, concrete books. She’s an actress coming to terms with bingeable cop shows rather than stage work, except when she’s not.
Valerie (Nora Hamzawi) turns out to be the only straightforward and entirely decent character in the film. The fact that she is A) the only one entirely outside of entertainment and publishing, and B) indeed in politics, allows Assays to say quite a lot about his feelings for the industry.
And as everyone talks and talks and desperately talks about changing paradigms in taste, consumption and art, they are eating, drinking and having sex. Because truly, some things do not change—especially in French films.
Assayas keeps his incredibly verbose scenes aloft with a wandering camera that feels like another guest at the party. Bright, funny, biting performances highlight actors who relish the challenge of bringing the script to life. Binoche is at her slippery best.
Non-Fiction toes the line of being too smart for its own good, of losing its audience for its serpentine commentary. But it never does. Assayas and his savvy foursome are having too much fun themselves for their effort to do anything other than entertain.