starring Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Nora Hamzawi
written and directed by Olivier Assayas
by Walter Chaw The questions asked in and by Olivier Assayas's Non-Fiction are slippery and at times satisfying for that. This is his Hong Sang-Soo following a pair of Apichatpong Weerasethakuls (though he would say his films owe a bigger debt to Bresson)--a movie, in other words, involving the intricacies of relational dynamics, shot on what appears to be a shoestring and a lark over a long weekend among friends. Probably it's what one of his characters calls "auto-fiction," a blurred line between memoir and pure fiction, with the tension being that maybe there's not much of a difference after all between what's true and what's made up in the pursuit of truth. It's one of those movies that seems like a defense of concept, a response or an invitation to conversation for critics. (Assayas himself was one, once upon a time.) Even more, the picture suggests an auto-critical confession of sorts, yet I'm not sure of what. Past or present infidelities? A declaration that he's found peace at last? An apologia for indiscretions and a pathway to a more authentic life? Whatever Non-Fiction is, it's maybe just a little too clever for its own good.
It sounds madcap, but it's not. Non-Fiction is instead a largely sedate puzzle-box of coy insinuations. There are so many references to itself as a thinly-veiled autobiography that it's impossible to wonder if Binoche, star of three recent Assayas features, isn't now his Kim Min-Hee. Maybe that's the point. It's a film about patience and discovery that is ostensibly about how attention spans now tend towards blogs rather than books. It looks self-effacing when you consider that maybe Assayas has cast as his alter ego lout Leonard, but then you remember that Assayas was in a relationship with Mia Hansen-Løve starting when she was 17 and he was 43 (though he says they didn't "get together" until she was 20 and he was 46; no word if he cheated on then-wife Maggie Cheung with Hansen-Løve), thus making his analogue the dashing Alain, who beds his much-younger underling. For Laure's part, she's painted as a cool opportunist among whose main interests is sex according to her boss, Alain. Once you attach a real-world counterpart to any of these characters, though, there's Assayas misdirecting and pontificating. He alternates self-flagellation at the idea that he could hurt people with his work with self-aggrandizement that art is not "corrupt" and for profit, but has as its only raison d'être art itself. In the end, Non-Fiction reveals that books are actually one artifact of physical media on the upswing, buggering predictions of its demise at the hands of e-books and tablets. In other words, if there's meaning in it, what Non-Fiction really is is a triumphant justification of its own existence. Frankly, it would have been better with a ghost.