The Truth (2019), directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. French and English with subtitles. Saturday (2/10), 21:00, BBC4. Also available on subscription or to rent or buy. Or, if you are a Cheltenham Film Society member, you can see it at the Bacon Theatre on 2 November.

Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche appear together on screen for the first time, as a prominent actress and her scriptwriter daughter, disagreeing about the content of the former’s recently published autobiography, and much else. Deneuve is also in the process of making a film with a strong mother-daughter theme, featuring an up-and-coming actress who reminds her of Sarah, a former friend and rival whose death continues to haunt her. 

Fabienne (Deneuve) is regal and hard to like, with a dismissive manner and a single-minded focus on career rather than family. It is not an accident that one of the character’s most famous roles is The Witch of Vincennes. Lumir (Binoche) is seemingly more rooted, with a young daughter (an excellent performance by ClĂ©mentine Grenier) and a slightly feckless husband (Ethan Hawke), but she is tormented by the unresolved issues with her mother. This sounds grim but there is certainly lightness and even comedy: it’s a family joke that Fabienne turned her former husband Pierre into the tortoise who lives in the garden, and in fact the two never appear on screen together.

Gradually though, the tone softens as Fabienne begins to bend under the strain of the film she is making and the other difficulties she acknowledges with those around her, including her former manager Luc, and Manon, the young actress. Through this, mother and daughter finally find themselves able to explore truths about their relationship.

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) deftly explores the sensitivities of the interesting set of characters, while creating some very touching moments, such as Fabienne walking her dog in the Paris streets or dancing with Hank, the son-in-law she doesn’t quite approve of. 

Acting itself is also a theme: Fabienne is not above using her real emotional exchanges as material for her acting, in fact it’s probably her modus operandi; and in turn Lumir sometimes scripts how a conversation will go, leaving us wondering what might be script and what is for real.

Deneuve is magnificent, and smokes a lot, but you sort of expect that.

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