Tag Archives: Hirokazu Kore-eda

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 Not So Simple Plan

The Third Murder

by Matt Weiner

“He changes his story every time.”

This early warning might be the only straightforward point made in The Third Murder, a new film from Hirokazu Kore-eda that goes from courtroom procedural to riveting thriller to heady exploration of truth and objectivity in rapid succession.

Defense lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes the lead in re-investigating a murder committed by Takashi Misumi (Kôji Yakusho), with an eye toward helping his client avoid the death penalty. A few small tugs at loose ends cause the official description of the case to unravel, presenting an entirely new take on the crime—and Misumi’s motivations in particular.

Kore-eda’s austere settings and still, unflinching direction for the legal proceedings suggest an air of impartiality at first. But the deeper Shigemori delves into what happened, and the more everyone’s stories start to come into conflict, it becomes clear that Kore-eda’s setup has been as misleading as the characters within it.

Balancing Shigemori’s dogged pursuit for the truth are his fellow lawyers, including his world-weary older boss and a bright-eyed new lawyer. The team reaches out to the family of Misumi’s victims, while also trying to learn more about their unhelpful client.

As with a typical legal thriller, the ideals of truth and justice are on trial along with the crime itself. Unlike lesser genre entries, however, Kore-eda’s characters are cursed with a hyperawareness that the parts they are playing are bigger than the justice system.

For all the lofty discussions of capital-T truth, the actors all keep their monologues from drifting into melodrama. As Misumi, Yakusho is especially compelling as a cipher for much of the movie (or “vessel,” as his lawyers might say). The inconsistent narratives only work if they’re believable, and frustration is rarely as delightful as watching everyone try to get a straight answer out of Misumi.

Learning that the legal system isn’t there to get people to tell the truth is punishing enough for even the most jaded lawyers in The Third Murder. Kore-eda’s methodical prodding offers a glimmer of hope that while easy resolutions might forever escape us, there’s a moral victory to be had in the examination, however pyrrhic.