When controversial author Léonard (Vincent Macaigne) delivers his latest book to his editor Alain (Guillaume Canet), Léonard’s lover, the actress Selena (Juliette Binoche), is afraid her husband, Alain, will recognize the participants of the book’s affair as “Non-Fiction.”
Prolific writer/director Olivier Assayas takes a step back from the supernaturally tinged drama of recent films “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper” for the type of dialogue stuffed breezy satire the French are known for. Ruminating on everything from the digital evisceration of print media (and print media’s return) to the global rise of the far right, Assayas and his cast keep us entertained as their characters struggle to present their idealized selves in a post-truth world.
The first book we see is ‘The Swamp,” a political best seller Alain notes too transparently gives real people fictional names. He’s meeting with Léonard, an author who will be continually criticized for the same crime and who fails to note his long time editor’s subtle rejection of his latest manuscript until they take their leave after lunch. The childlike Léonard asks Selena to put in a good word for his work, proud of himself for having steered Alain’s perception of his character Xenia from Selena to Stephanie Volkowski, a television talk show host Selena is appalled to be compared with.
Selena, who’s been involved with Léonard for six years, is jealous of Alain’s new digital manager Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), who she views as a sexual predator. Alain is indeed sleeping with the employee half his age (their relationship recalls that of William Holden and Faye Dunaway in “Network”), but he is also our touchstone, the most self aware character amidst swirling insecurities and fragile egos . Has he even been taken in by Léonard’s ploy? He more than anyone should realize his wife’s anathema for Volkowski, his casual mention of her fictionalization in Léonard’s book perhaps intended to provoke. Meanwhile whenever Selena mixes with his intellectual crowd, her biggest hurdle is always redefining her television series role from ‘female cop’ to ‘crisis management expert,’ a running joke (as is the series itself, alternately referred to as ‘Collision’ and ‘Collusion’). Both characters who create fictional ones, Léonard and Selena, are childlike while their spouses are the adults of the relationships.
Léonard’s wife Laure (Christa Theret), an advisor to liberal socialist politician David (Nicolas Bouchaud), treats him with barely masked disdain, showing no sympathy for his publishing woes. She seems to agree with the general consensus that he should write another book like his most popular, ‘Police Report.’ Law and order is haunting many of Assayas’ characters, soon literally in the case of Laure and her politician. Meanwhile Alain seems strangely unflustered when Marc-Antoine Rouvel (Pascal Greggory) reveals he’s considering selling Vertheuil Editions, Alain’s publishing house.
While some of Assayas’ sly critiques already seem dated, even these more obvious targets can be uproarious in the right hands. Valérie may say all the right things as a digital marketing manager, but she fails when asked to justify them in non-economical terms, her arguments empty (just like Dunaway’s ratings crazed “Network” producer). Internet outrage mobs have descended on Léonard for his last thinly veiled character, an ex who claims his words ‘felt like rape,’ while the literati scorn his having set a sex scene to Michael Haeneke’s “White Ribbon,” condemning him for making light of the Holocaust while Selena, who was there, asks him why he had to ‘chic it up’ when the movie was actually “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
After all the turbulence among these two couples and longtime friends, Assayas settles them down for some seaside relaxation, Alain’s instincts with Rouvel proven correct, his position secure. For all the public political, literary and onscreen spin these characters engage in, it is not new media but old tropes that draw them back together. The art of fooling ourselves is as old as time.
Robin gives "Non-Fiction" a B-.
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