After earning an Oscar nomination for Shoplifters, Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda could have taken it easy. Instead, he made the French drama The Truth.
Kore-eda had never worked on a project outside his home country and didn’t speak the same language as his cast and crew. Such challenges yielded one of the most rewarding experiences of his storied career.
“I could intuitively sense when I had a good take or when I needed to ask them to maybe tone it down a little bit. That part wasn’t all that difficult,” Kore-eda said through an interpreter by phone. “Working abroad really made me reassess myself and what it means to direct. I was able to revisit some fundamental questions.”
The film follows Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve), a legendary French thespian whose latest role coincides with the upcoming publication of her memoirs, along with a visit to her Parisian estate by her daughter (Juliette Binoche), who arrives from New York with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and young daughter.
However, the book causes simmering resentment to bubble to the surface. As it turns out, the author’s embellishments tend to glorify her own accomplishments while denigrating her friends and relatives, although she’s oblivious to all of the commotion. Maybe it’s her fuzzy memory at her age, or perhaps an entire life of telling stories has rendered Fabienne unable to discern fact from fiction. But is she really being dishonest?
Kore-eda said he’s been offered opportunities to work outside Japan for more than a decade, but the most persuasive came from Binoche, his longtime friend.
About five years ago, he sent Binoche a proposal that expanded on a play Kore-eda wrote in 2003, which took place in the backstage dressing room of an aging actress.
The resulting film wasn’t intended as a way to shift gears after Shoplifters. Rather, he was preparing for The Truth simultaneously, and from there, it was just a matter of timing.
Production wrapped in late 2018 in Paris, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the filmmakers pivoted from a theatrical run in the United States to a release on digital platforms beginning this weekend.
“I really wanted to avoid any postcard shots of the famous tourist spots, and just show Paris and the seasons changing in the way the locals would experience it,” Kore-eda said.
Deneuve is a French icon whose portrayal seems to offer subtle self-reflexive nods to some of her roles and experiences over the years. But the actress didn’t necessarily see it that way.
“She was able to maintain a certain kind of distance. She would laugh and say, ‘this will get me hated,’ and do the performance anyway,” Kore-eda said. “She was a splendid presence. She’s always moving, always smiling, always smoking. She’s so magnetic that whenever she was on set, everyone was glued to her. She made everyone fall in love with her.”
Kore-eda also enjoyed working with Hawke, the Fort Worth native who proved a calming influence on set as the only American actor in the ensemble.
“He was very encouraging to me. He’s an actor but always seeing things from the director’s perspective,” Kore-eda said. “Ethan didn’t speak French or understand French, and I didn’t speak or understand English or French. He told me what matters when you’re making a film is not that you share a specific language, but that you share a vision.”