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With: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Christa Théret, Nora Hamzawi, Pascal Greggory, Antoine Reinartz
Written by: Olivier Assayas
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexuality/nudity
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 05/24/2019

Non-Fiction (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Open Book

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For each new film, director Olivier Assayas seems to draw from entirely different cinematic influences. This time, with Non-Fiction he draws mainly from Eric Rohmer, but with a touch of the current; Rohmer probably never could have made a movie that discussed the digital age with such head-spinning awareness and contradiction. Non-Fiction also resembles Assayas's Summer Hours, but only on the surface. This batch of characters reside deeper inside duplicity.

Alain (Guillaume Canet) is a powerful editor at a respected publishing house, trying to anticipate the market of the future. Will it be entirely eBooks? Will printed books survive? Or will audiobooks take over? (In all likelihood, it will be a mixture of all three, a concept that the movie never considers.) He turns down the latest book by scruffy, hangdog writer Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), arguing that it's more of the same navel-gazing, more about Leonard's many real-life affairs. (It contains a controversial scene, a sex act performed in a movie theater in front of Haneke's The White Ribbon.)

In actuality, Leonard is having a long-term affair with Alain's wife, actress Serena (Juliette Binoche). At home, she argues the plusses of Leonard's book, while wrestling with her own career; she's on a hit TV show but has grown bored with her role. (Can I just take a moment to remind folks that — apologies to Streep — Binoche may be the greatest actress working in cinema today?) Then, Alain is having an affair with a woman at the office, Laure (Christa Théret), though she reveals to her other partner that she is ready to move on. Leonard's partner, Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), works for a politician, and, may be the only one not having an affair. Though she loves Leonard, she's rather blasé about both his affairs and his literary successes and/or failures.

The movie consists of several get-togethers (over wine and snacks), followed by private moments between couples, and much of the movie contains talk about the digital age, about the evils or benefits of Twitter, the death of print, etc. The talk is definitely intelligent, but it's also... talky. And if not for the fact that Assayas always merges a talky scene into one more emotional (and physical), then Non-Fiction might have toppled into art-house oblivion. Finally, for all the talk, none of these intellectuals has any real answers, just as they don't have any answers about the mysteries of love, sex, and attraction. Appropriately, it ends with a fact of life that knocks our characters speechless.

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