Tag Archives: Catherine Deneuve

Belle of the Ball

The Truth

by Matt Weiner

Actors getting lost in a role can become the stuff of legends, or the butt of jokes—as Olivier’s advice allegedly went to Dustin Hoffman, “Why don’t you just try acting?” In The Truth, director Hirokazu Kore-eda takes one of film’s most iconic actresses and sets to demolishing the notion that an artist could ever separate who they are from what they have to say.

The film is Kore-eda’s first foray outside of Japan, and a worthy follow-up to his masterful 2018 drama Shoplifters. The drama, also written by Kore-eda, has a lighter touch in The Truth, but it’s no less arresting thanks to a brilliant self-referential performance from Catherine Deneuve.

Deneuve plays Fabienne, an idol of French cinema now at a point in her life when she’s ready to look back on her storied career. Fabienne’s daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) has brought along her family from America to pay Fabienne a visit. When Lumir gets an early look at Fabienne’s memoir, she lashes out at the wide gulf between Fabienne the myth and Fabienne the mother, the one who pursued her art to the detriment of everything else in her life.

One family’s drama becomes a delightful interrogation of memory and art. And as if the unreliable memoir weren’t enough to drive the point home, Fabienne is also currently filming a new movie against an up-and-coming actress playing her younger version.

The film’s quirky sci-fi twist forces Fabienne to face her younger self, and the grande dame of French cinema isn’t quite ready to relinquish her fading star power to what she sees as a poor imitation of her own youthful rise to celebrity.

Kore-eda blurs the lines even further by referencing Deneuve’s breakout years, specifically Belle de Jour, with posters and costumes dotting Fabienne’s house and still exerting a powerful hold on her sense of self-worth. (Ethan Hawke’s understated turn as Lumir’s bohemian husband Hank also feels like an alternate universe version of Jesse from the Before trilogy… but that might also just be Hawke’s natural “these are my ‘just chilling in France’ vibes.” Either way, the man is living his best life.)

The result is a family drama that manages to humanize the dysfunction without fully absolving anyone. Fabienne might be a legend, but she’s still only human. Living an entire life unmoored, unable to process anything in the moment without layers of artifice to mediate any real emotion, seems like it should be punishment enough.

A Tale of Two Catherines

The Midwife

by Matt Weiner

There is a scene early on in The Midwife that consists almost entirely of a conversation between Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) and her doctor, in which Beatrice says barely a word and yet the camera doesn’t move from her face the entire time.

Director and writer Martin Provost allows moments like these to unfold again and again throughout the film, relying on superb performances and an unsentimental treatment of the material to present an arresting and spare meditation on love and the passage of time.

Claire (Catherine Frot) is an uptight midwife in Paris whose grim adherence to routine seems on the verge of upheaval, both professionally and personally. This coincides with the free-spirited Beatrice, the mistress of Claire’s dead father, reappearing out of nowhere.

It’s a familiar setup: Claire and Beatrice are natural foils, and they both have some unexorcised emotions to work out over the man they both loved, in their own ways. But that relationship between Claire and Beatrice is the main attraction, and the two actresses work off one another in a way that keeps things poignant, never melodramatic.

Deneuve, in particular, is equal parts devastating and disarming as Beatrice. It’s fitting that at this point in her career, she’s now deconstructing the haughty mystery that she become indelibly associated with over the last 50 years.

What happens when life finally strips away all the defensive layers and artifice that a woman like Beatrice has worked so hard to maintain? What remains when you’re all alone save a body that’s slowly betraying you?

The film doesn’t answer all these questions. And, beguilingly, neither does Deneuve. As circumstances force Beatrice to part with all her glamorous trappings, she holds onto her defiance. And some of her reticence.

In The Midwife, it’s not death that the characters are afraid of—it’s all the indignity that time heaps on us in between being born and dying. Babies “spring out from nothing,” Claire observes. Controlling as she is, Claire can only do so much for those she has brought into the world.

What anyone chooses to make of their time afterward, the film suggests, is all part of the mystery, joy and frustration of being alive.