Thursday, October 4, 2018

Being Relevant

Double vies/Non-Fiction (2018) - Assayas
Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 6.49.20 AM
It seems, along with Godard, Olivier Assayas is one of the cinema's keenest chroniclers reflecting the soulless modern world in the late stages of capitalism. He reflected on the internet porn industry and shady side of desire in Demon Lover, corporate espionage and power politics in Boarding Gate, Hollywood & stardom in Clouds of Sils Maria and fashion industry in Personal Shopper. Now he takes on the fate of the print media with a biting new comedy, Non-Fiction. Unlike his last two collaborations with Kristen Stewart with international cast and locations, Non-Fiction takes place mostly in Paris with an ensemble cast of French actors - Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne and Nora Hamzawi. Although the scale of the film might seem smaller and less glamorous, Assayas' observation on the publishing industry and the rising popularity of TV are, as usual, spot-on.

Canet plays Alain, a book publisher. He is not too hot about the new manuscript of his long time client, Leonard (Macaigne), a semi-respected author. Alain used to like Leonard’s books, but the author's thinly veiled, self-aggrandizing autobiographical works have been getting on his nerves lately. So he decides to pass on his latest. Alain is also dealing with office politics with physical books transitioning into digital format and sales figures where prestige doesn't necessarily produce profit anymore. And there is a rumor of a large media conglomerate taking over the company he works for.

For Leonard, who is going through a hard time with his live-in girlfriend Valerie (Hamzawi), a sharp tongued political consultant for a major political candidate for the upcoming election, the news of Alain's refusal to publish his new book (titled Full Stop) is a big blow. Leonard also happens to be having a long term affair with Alain's actress wife Selena (Juliette Binoche) who also appears (thinly veiled of course) in Full Stop and she is deathly afraid of Alain finding out.

Valerie is getting frustrated because her earnest candidate's message is not getting through to people. In this post-Trump, post-truth era, there’s just too much noise for people to filter out, Leonard tries to console her to no avail. It doesn't help that when the allegation of sexual harassment turns up from the candidate's past.

Selena talks about a policier TV series that she has been starring for 4 seasons. It's physical work and kind of cool to be a feminist heroine but she doesn't feel any joy doing it anymore. Any TV show is something to put on when working stiffs get home after long day of work and binge watch and relax, she says. Alain chimes in that it's like those adult coloring books that are money-makers for publishing companies. They are for relaxation, nothing more. Selena complains that only other job offers she gets is Phaedra on stage, obviously because of her age.

All of these characters are trying very hard to make a mark in their own field. They want to desperately matter in an internet age where people prefer blogs instead of esteemed magazines and a twitter rumor can ruin someone's reputation in an instant.

Non-Fiction is a very wordy, very French film. In cafes, apartments and hotel rooms, they smoke, drink and talk non-stop. Leonard quips that because of twitter's narcissistic nature, it’s very French.

Printed literature versus e-book and the intellectual property rights versus the internet being the purveyor of democracy are all hot topics these days. Do we really prefer that digital media you bought, which eventually disappears from your computer’s digital library, to physical media that can never truly disappear? I feel that Assayas is the only major director who actually verbalizes these issues on screen.

A lot of big words are thrown about and discussed among these urban, cultured professionals - Unwitty witticism, auto-fiction, dematerialization, post-truth, etc. These characters embody the anti-thesis to the anti-intellectual world where everyone is free to spout three sentence haikus on twitter without any consequences.

Where it lacks Assayas' languid visual language, Non-fiction makes up with his sharp, witty dialog and humor. Macaigne, a comedian with his unkempt hair and portly disposition, appearing in many of quirky French comedies of late, is becoming a major figure in French cinema. He has worked his way up to having a full nude love scene with Juliette Binoche here.

In this fictional light comedy with its English Title Non-Fiction, along with its French Title Double vie, Assayas once again rightly reflects our society in real time. To top the movie's meta-ness, Alain tells that he is in negotiation with Juliette Binoche to do an audio book of Full Stop. This got the biggest laugh from the audiences at the film's press screening.