To take a cue from Paul Mazursky’s 1969 film, writer-director Olivier Assayas’ French film could have easily been titled “Léonard & Valerie & Alain & Selena” as infidelity in the literary world becomes the matter at hand for this talk-heavy feature from the director behind “Personal Shopper” and “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
The exceptional cast led by Juliette Binoche is a pleasure to watch as they impeccably balance comedy and drama while pondering whether people still read physical books or have we become a digital society immersed in our iPads, smartphones, and e-readers. From discourse to intercourse, the audience is treated to a Paris backdrop, witty banter, pop culture references, and titillating moments.
Vincent Macaigne plays an author named Léonard who writes fiction novels that everyone knows are based on his personal life. He’s the Taylor Swift of the literary world and so when he admits to his girlfriend Valerie (comedian Nora Hamzawi) that he’s having an affair it comes as no surprise as she points out, “You wrote a book about it.” Valerie is more concerned about the politician she works for during this era of Fake News, which is referenced in the film along with Swift, Twitter, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and Theodor W. Adorno, a German philosopher known for his critical theory of society. There seems to be a reference for everyone, from “The Fast and the Furious” to Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.”
For the last six years Léonard has been sleeping with Selena (Juliette Binoche), the wife of his publisher Alain (Guillaume Canet) who refuses to publish Léonard’s new manuscript after the novelist’s last book tanked. Alain is old school and agitated by how so many readers have stopped buying actual books in favor of their digital counterparts. Of course, that doesn’t stop the suave publisher from cheating on his wife with the younger Laure (Christa Théret) who ironically is in charge of digital transition at the publishing house. In more shocking news she’s never seen an Ingmar Bergman film and considers tweets as forms of poetry.
Finally, there’s the wonderful Juliette Binoche, the film’s shining star, whose character Selena is regarded as a great actress. Unfortunately, she’s been stuck playing a cop on television for the last three years on a show called “Collusion” which is up for a 4th season renewal. Despite the good ratings, Selena longs for a more substantial role. One of the film’s funny running gags involves Selena referring to her role on the television show as a “crisis management expert” not a cop. Later in the film as Selena lounges beachside, she discusses actress Juliette Binoche in another example of Assayas having fun with the playful script.
Shot on Super 16mm (which is probably another jab at the digital age), “Non-Fiction” is smart, funny, and immensely entertaining. Binoche leads an exceptional cast in the dialogue-heavy film which will probably be appreciated the most by the same demographic that still reads physical books.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace (Houston), Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills (Austin), and Violet Crown Cinema (Austin)